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Bantam Wisdom Editions
The Classical Book of Integrity and the Way
Lao Tzu
Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War
A New Interpretation for M odern Times
The Sayings of Buddha
Earliest Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu
This book is dedicated to the brave and gentle people of Tibet, who have suffered and are
suffering one of the great tragedies of our time. The entire world is turning its back, due
to fear and greed, while the Chinese government pursues its systematic campaign of
genocide. May the conscience of all people cry out in one voice! May the Chinese people
inform themselves at long last, find out they have been lied to by several of their own
governments, and realize they are in extreme contravention of the laws of humanity and of
nature! May their hearts then soften and may they take concrete action to repair the great
harm they have inflicted on this innocent people. May the Tibetan people soon regain the
sovereign freedom they have enjoyed since the dawn of history! And may the sunlight of
Tibetan Spiritual Science once again shine brightly upon a freshened world!
A Bantam Book / January 1994
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1994 by Robert A. F. Thurman.
Color section design by M ichael M endelsohn/M M Design 2000
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information
storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address: Bantam Books.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Karma Lingpa, 14th cent.
[Bar do thos grol. English]
The Tibetan book of the dead: the great book of natural liberation through understanding
in the between / composed by Padma Sambhava; discovered by Karma Lingpa; translated
by Robert A. F. Thurman.
p. cm.
eISBN: 978-0-307-78402-5
1. Intermediate state—Buddhism—Early works to 1800. 2. Death—Religious aspects—
Buddhism—Early works to 1800. 3. Funeral rites and ceremonies, Buddhist—Early
works to 1800. 4. Karma Lingpa, 14th cent. Bar do thos grol. 1. Padma Sambhava, ca.
717-ca. 762.
II. Thurman, Robert A. F. III. Title.
BQ4490.K3713 1993
Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada
Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell
Publishing Group, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the
portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other
countries. M arca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York
Other Books by This Author
Title Page
List of Figures
List of Color Plates
Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
An Outline of Tibetan History
Tibet: A Spiritual Civilization
Tibet’s Present Plight
Buddhism in Summary
Tibetan Ideas About Death
What Is Death?
The Six Realms
The Three Buddha Bodies
The Body-M ind Complex
Stages of Death
The Reality of Liberation
Ordinary Preparations for Death
Extraordinary Preparations
The Preliminary Stage
Mentor and Initiation
The Creation Stage
The Perfection Stage
The History of the Texts
The Sections of the Book
The Great Book of Natural Liberation
Through Understanding in the Between
The Prayer of the Three Body M entor Yoga
The Prayer for Help from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
The Prayer for Deliverance from the Straits of the Between
The Prayer for Refuge from All Terrors of the Between
The Root Verses of the Six Betweens
The Prayer of the Reality Between
Using The Book of Natural Liberation
Recognition of the Clear Light in the Death-point Between
The Central Channel Reality Clear Light
The Out-of-Body Reality Clear Light
The M ild Deity Reality Between
The First Day
The Second Day
The Third Day
The Fourth Day
The Fifth Day
The Sixth Day
The Seventh Day
The Fierce Deity Reality Between
The Eighth Day
The Ninth Day
The Tenth Day
The Eleventh Day
The Twelfth Day
Orientation to the Existence Between
Basic Introduction
Powers and Problems of a Between-Being
Encountering the Lord of Death
Detachment from the Previous Life
Avoiding the Dull Lights to Block Rebirth
Blocking the Door of the Womb
Choosing a Good Womb
Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels
The Ten Branches of Accumulating M erit
Enlightening, Protecting, and Purifying
Vajrasattva Purification
The Actual Visualization
The Mild Deity Interior Mandala
The Scientist Deity Interior Mandala
The Fierce Deity Interior Mandala
The Quintessence
The Need for This Identification
The Detailed Identification
The Three-Point Entrance
The Forceful Method
The Four Inerrancies and Four Nails
The Oneness of Times
Views, Meditations, Ethics, Fruitions
This Knowing
Mind Is All
Essential Bibliography
1. Structure of the Buddha Dharma
2. The Three Buddha Bodies and their analogues
3. The life cycle as the six betweens
4. The gross, subtle, and extremely subtle body-mind complex
5. The five aggregates of the individual life
6. The subtle body’s wheels and channels
7. The subtle mind’s intuitions, experiences, and instincts
8. The stages of death: dissolutions and experiences
9. The aggregates and wisdoms corresponding to the early stages of death
10. The Five Buddhas, and the corresponding aggregates, poisons, colors,
and wisdoms
Figure 11. M ovement of energy through the subtle body
1. Padma Sambhava in His Copper M ountain Paradise
2. Avalokiteshvara as the Thousand-armed Lord of Compassion
3. The Buddha Akshobhya in the Eastern Pure Land, Abhirati
4. Wheel of Life
5. Fierce Chemchok Heruka and the Between Deities
6. Chemchok Heruka
7. Peaceful Deities All Together
8. Fierce Deities All Together
The Bardo Thodol, which has become known in the West as The Tibetan Book of the
Dead, is one of the most important books our civilization has produced. We Tibetans
have a reputation of being very spiritual, though we usually consider ourselves quite
down-to-earth and practical. So we think of our systematic study and analysis of the
human death process as a cautious and practical preparation for the inevitable. After all,
there is not a single one of us who is not going to die, sooner or later. So how to prepare
for death, how to undergo the death process with the least trauma, and what comes after
death—these are matters of vital importance to every one of us. It would be impractical
of us not to study these issues with the greatest of care and not to develop methods of
dealing with death and the dying in a skillful, compassionate, and humane way.
The Book of Liberation Through Understanding in the Between has been quite popular
for many centuries in Tibet. It is a manual of useful instructions for people who are
facing their death, as well as for their relatives and friends. It is connected with a large
literature in Tibetan that thoroughly investigates the phenomena of dying. Indeed, the
reality of death has always been a major spur to virtuous and intelligent action in all
Buddhist societies. It is not considered morbid to contemplate it, but rather liberating
from fear, and even beneficial to the health of the living.
I am delighted that my old friend, Professor Robert Thurman, has made a new
translation of this important work. I am sure he brings to bear on this text a unique
combination of reliable scholarship and personal dedication to produce an accurate,
expressive, and lucid translation for Western readers, I hope they will find the book as
essentially useful and illuminating as have Tibetans down through the centuries.
January 29, 1993
Years ago my original teacher, the Venerable Geshe Ngawang Wangyal of the Labsum
Shedrub M onastery, gave me a copy of a Tibetan volume printed in India, entitled The
Tibetan Book of the Dead. He had a way of saying certain things so that you remembered
them long afterward, giving them a special impact, as if the words stood outside of time.
“Here, you are going to need this!” At the time, working on this book was not a priority
for me. But I kept it carefully, knowing my teacher’s insight, and thinking that some day
I probably would need it.
I had long known the old translation of this same text by Kazi Dawa Samdup and W.
H. Y. Evans-Wentz, which had started the misnomer, The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I had
read it and used it when relatives and friends died. It described a very real process
through which we all have to go after death and before the next life that we will most
probably have to face. I had also read the Francesca Fremantle and Chogyam Trungpa
Rinpoche version, writing a review of it for a scholarly journal some time ago. In spite of
its psychologized metaphysic and terminology, it was an improvement on the earlier
The Tibetan Book of the Dead was written by the great master Padma Sambhava in the
eighth or ninth century for Indian and Tibetan Buddhists. It was hidden by him for a
later era, and was discovered by the renowned treasure-finder Karma Lingpa in the
fourteenth century. It organizes the experiences of the between—(Tibetan, bar-do)
usually referring to the state between death and rebirth—according to the expectations of
initiates in a particular esoteric mandala (a sacred universe), the mandala of the hundred
mild and fierce Buddha deities.
In recent years, I have studied the Unexcelled Yoga Tantras, especially the
Guhyasamaja, or Esoteric Communion, tradition, so lucidly explicated by Lama Jey
Tsong Khapa (1357–1419). Unexcelled Yoga Tantra is a highly technical approach to
inner experiences, an ancient tradition of spiritual techniques every bit as sophisticated
as modern material technologies. It uses special yogically induced states to explore the
nature of the self and the mind, of death, life, and the between states. It describes death
in great detail: its physiology, its psychology, its normal experience, and its simulated
experience in experimental yogas of trance states. I have found it lucid and useful, not
only for thinking about death, but also for thinking about life, health, and even breath.
When I encountered death, thinking about my own or losing friends, this spiritual science
gave me a framework within which I could understand the process.
After these Unexcelled Yoga studies, when I looked back at the Tibetan Book of the
Dead, it seemed less relevant to me, and to modern experiences of death and dying. After
all, it was intended to be a popular manual designed for the ordinary Tibetan layperson
and not for the yogic adept. I noted that Stephen Levine and other developers of yogas
for dying for contemporary Americans had found its imagery too cumbersome and
unfamiliar for the ordinary person confronting his or her death. How many people in
Toledo or Topeka can cope with a Heruka (a heroic male archetype deity) or a Dakini (a
dynamic female angel)? A peaceful deity? A wrathful deity? Wouldn’t it be better for
them to use manuals for dying developed within their native Jewish or Christian faith?
The technical descriptions of death in the Esoteric Communion literature seemed more
clear and systematic, though not written for use by ordinary people when confronting
the death process.
Thus when Bantam Books first approached me to do a new translation of the basic
text with a popular commentary, I was uncertain about taking on the project. I might
have declined altogether, had not my teacher’s words arisen in my memory. I went home
and looked through the Evans-Wentz and the Fremantle and Trungpa versions. I
skimmed passages of the Tibetan edition my teacher had given me. I realized that people
who are dying need something more clear, usable, and accessible than those translations.
To begin with, we all need to escape from the misleading title, or at least reduce it to a
subtitle. No Tibetan expression is translatable as “Book of the Dead.” In the actual
Tibetan title, Bardo thos grol, bardo simply means the “between-state.” In common
parlance, “the between” refers to the whole process between death and rebirth. M ore
technically, Tibetans discern six betweens, the intervals between birth and death (“life
between”), sleep and waking (“dream between”), waking and trance (“trance between”),
and three betweens during the death-rebirth process (“death-point,” “reality,” and
“existence” betweens). Thos pa refers to one of three types of wisdom or understanding,
those developed by learning, reflecting, and meditating. The words thos grol mean that
this book’s teaching “liberates” just by being “learned” or “understood,” giving the
person facing the between an understanding so naturally clear and deep that it does not
require prolonged reflection or contemplation. So the most common Tibetan title of the
work is The Great Book of Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between
(Bardo thos grol chen mo). It is itself a subsection of a larger work called The Profound
Teaching of The Natural Liberation Through Contemplating the Mild and Fierce Buddha
I became inspired by such reflections. I decided to try to produce a version that would
be simple and useful, easy for bereaved relatives to read, and easy for lost souls to hear
in the room where they anxiously hover about their corpses and wonder what has
happened to them. At the same time, I would put in the commentary a technical
description of the death process gleaned from the larger Tibetan literature on Unexcelled
The result is this book. As I was working on the text, I found other Tibetan editions
that seemed more reliable and often clarified obscurities in the edition printed in India my
teacher had given me. I also found some previously untranslated sections of the larger
work, which clarified the teaching; I have included them here as appendices. Working on
this text has been a fascinating and rewarding experience—I am once again grateful to my
late teacher. I hope you also will find it useful.
Ganden Dekyi Ling
Woodstock, New York
August 1992
Note: In the work below, I have avoided the footnote form altogether, in order to keep
the text simple for the general reader, and to keep everything readers need on the page
they’re on. There are of course a number of unfamiliar terms and concepts. I have
included these in a glossary at the back of the book, with brief explanations of all special
terms and important names, places, and objects.
In the writing of Sanskrit and Tibetan names I have written them phonetically as
pronounced by English readers, not observing the conventions of scholarly
transliteration: Shakyamuni, not Sakyamuni; Vairochana, not Vairocana, and so forth. I
have omitted long marks on vowels, and write the vowel r as “er.”
The Tibetans have always called their own country Bö, on some occasions adding
Khawajen, “Land of Snows.” Their own recorded history dates back some 2300 years,
to the time of the M acedonian Greek empire in the west, the M auryan empire in India,
and the late Chou empire in China. During Tibet’s first eight centuries, it was ruled by a
military dynasty. It had an animistic religious system, run by a priesthood of shamans
adept in divination, sorcery, and sacrifice. Its polity centered on a royal family believed
to have descended from the heavens. The first seven kings came down to rule on a
magical ladder hanging in space, up which they would return when their time had come
to die. Due to some conflict in the palace, the eighth king cut the sky rope, and the kings
thereafter, like the pharaohs of Egypt, were interred in large burial mounds, along with
possessions and companions.
The early dynasty was centered in the Yarlung Valley, a river valley running south
from the eastward flowing Tsang-chu (the Brahmaputra), near present-day Tsetang.
Gradually, over the centuries, the dynasty added tribes and territories to its domain,
uniting the lords of neighboring kingdoms in a feudal, military network. The tribes they
unified were already tied by three main common bonds: their territory, language, and
religious tendency. They all inhabited the approximately one-million-square-mile Tibetan
plateau, with an average altitude of 13,000 to 14,000 feet. Living successfully at such an
altitude involves a complex physiological adaptation. To be comfortable there, you really
have to be born there from a lineage long acclimatized. The Tibetan language belongs to
the Tibeto-Burman language family, a family distinct from the Indic, Dardic, Turkic,
M ongolian, and Sinitic language families of the surrounding lowland areas. Religiously,
Tibetans tended to deify elements of nature, especially mountains and sky, and shared a
complex set of rituals of sacrifice, divination, and propitiation of a diverse pantheon of
underworld, landscape, and celestial deities.
The high-altitude culture was distinguished from those around it by its more
“spiritual” orientation. Lifespans at high altitude are somewhat shortened, and the stark
and spectacular mountain landscape is conducive to reflection and contemplation. In the
early centuries, this spirituality was practical in outlook. Like most shamanisms, it
sought mundane success, victory, health, wealth, and progeny. During the period of
military expansion, it seems to have focused on a cult of kingship, run by shamanic
adept priests. Since the king had descended from heaven as a divinity on earth, he
guaranteed power and order. The shaman assisted this order by inviting the king’s
descent, celebrating his presence, securing the cooperation of the deities in the heavens,
lands, and underworld, and managing the transition from the old king to the new. The
shaman was required to travel to the land of the dead and back, in order to gain personal
experience of the period of chaos between reigns. His role was to draw on the power of
chaos while keeping it in its place, assuring its continuing separation from the land of the
living, the realm of order.
The Tibetan dynastic culture was quite successful for many centuries. Rival kingdoms
from surrounding lowlands could not intrude for long on the high plateau, so it was
allowed to develop without interference. The Tibetans’ struggles with their natural
environment and with each other strengthened them, and by the sixth century they had
unified the highland and become an empire to be reckoned with. They began to mount
campaigns in all directions into the lowlands. At this time they developed a fearsome
reputation among the Chinese, Turkish, M ongolian, Persian, and Indic peoples.
In the early seventh century, an emperor named Songzen Gambo reached the
militaristic empire’s natural limits. Unity among warlords is always tenuous, and the
high-altitude Tibetans had no interest in further expansion outward into the lowlands. He
began transforming the civilization from feudal militarism to something more peaceful
and spiritual, based on the people’s cultivated moral outlook. In working on this
transformation, Songzen Gambo investigated the major civilizations of outer (from his
perspective) Asia, and noted that Universalist (M ahayana) Buddhism provided the
cultural backbone of the Pala and post-Gupta dynasties of India, the silk route city
states of central Asia, and the T’ang dynasty of China. So he began a systematic process
of cultural adaptation. He sent a team of scholars to India to learn Sanskrit, create a
written language for Tibetan, and begin to translate the vast Buddhist literature. He
married nine princesses from different surrounding countries, including Nepal and T’ang
China, requesting each to bring Buddhist artifacts and texts with her to Tibet. He built a
geomantic system of imperial temples, centered on the Jokhang and Ramoche cathedrals
in his new capital at Lhasa, with a network of branch temples creating a pattern of
sacredness to contain the nation.
For the next two and a half centuries, his successors continued his work of cultural
transformation, sponsoring translations, holding research conferences, building
institutions, and educating their subjects. This process reached a high point during the
790s, in the reign of Emperor Trisong Detsen, who, with the help of the Indian adept
Padma Sambhava and the Indian Buddhist abbot Shantarakshita, built the first monastery
at Samye. Here the Indian Buddhist university structure and curriculum were
transplanted, and a sixty-year process of collecting all the useful knowledge then
available in Asia was begun. M athematics, poetry, medicine, the art of government, art
and architecture—all these branches of learning were cultivated, not only Buddhist
philosophy and psychology. Scholars were invited from Persia, India, Uighuria,
M ongolia, the silk route states, and T’ang China, and Tibetans became skilled at
comparison and combination, in their quest for the best understanding of man and nature.
For example, during the 830s, hundreds of scholars from all over the known world spent
a decade comparing the medical systems of India, China, Persia, M ongolia, and Uighuria,
creating a Tibetan medical system that integrated the best available psychology, anatomy,
neurology, surgery, botany, chemistry, and nutrition with Buddhist spiritual technology.
After this high point of Samye’s ascendancy, a period of confusion ensued,
precipitated by excessive pressure from the emperors in their injection of Buddhist
perspectives and practices into all facets of life. There was a revolt within the royal
family itself. A series of assassinations and coups ended with the collapse of the
dynasty, the regional fragmentation of the nation, and the temporary suppression of
Buddhism. Within a century, however, Buddhist insights and institutions re-emerged,
now rooted among the people, with sponsorship from regional rulers. For the next three
centuries, Tibetans more and more turned their interests toward Buddhist education, and
monasteries were built all over the country. The vast work of translation was completed
and a voluminous indigenous literature was developed. No new royal dynasty emerged
to control the whole country. Tibetan militarism was unable to return due to the power
of Buddhism and its morality of nonviolence. Local noble families still ruled regional
areas, but more and more they shared even their social and political power with the
rapidly developing monastic institutions.
During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the M ongolian empire unified most of
Eurasia, and Tibet was formally incorporated within the Pax M ongolica. In reality, it was
very little changed, divided into thirteen main administrative regions, each run by a
combination of a local ruling family and a local monastic hierarchy. The Sakya hierarchy
and the Khon family were formally put in charge over all by Khubilai Khan, but the
Sakya hierarch was more of a spiritual figurehead than an active administrator. Toward
the end of the fourteenth century, the M ongol empire fell apart, and the native Tibetan
dynasty of Pagmodru asserted control over Tibet. At the same time, a spiritual
renaissance was ushered in by the life work of Lama Jey Tsong Khapa. The new era of
national dedication to the practice of Buddhism as the main aim of life was sealed by his
founding the Great Prayer Festival in Lhasa in 1409. He offered celestial ornaments to
the Jowo Rinpoche image of Shakyamuni Buddha enshrined in the Jokhang cathedral, to
symbolize the nation’s realization of the eternal presence of the Buddha. A tradition thus
began for the whole nation to come together for two weeks of prayer and celebration
every lunar new year. The keys of the city were turned over to the monastic abbots, and
all ordinary business was suspended. This festival was a core event for all Tibet from
1409 until 1960, when the Chinese occupation stopped it by force.
During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the renaissance initiated by Tsong Khapa
transformed the spiritual, social, and physical landscape of Tibet. In region after region
monastery building intensified, as more and more men and women became determined to
dedicate their “precious human lives endowed with freedom and opportunity” to fulfill
their evolution and attain enlightenment. The social climate became more and more
peaceful, as fewer and fewer individuals were available for the armies of the remaining
local warlords. One of Tsong Khapa’s younger disciples, Gendun Drubpa, led the new
Geluk Order during a long and creative life of inspiring teaching, writing, and building.
After his death, a beautiful young boy in another region claimed to be Gendun Drubpa
from the moment he could talk. After many tests and miraculous recognitions, he was
accepted by the community as the actual reincarnation of the great master, and he was
raised and educated to fulfill the same leadership role, as the Lama Gendun Gyatso. His
subsequent reincarnation, discovered through similar miracles, tests, and demonstrated
abilities, Sonam Gyatso, led the order in the sixteenth century, until during an historic
visit to M ongolia in 1573, he was named “Dalai Lama” (“Oceanic M aster”) by the
M ongolian emperor Altan Khan. Including his two predecessors retroactively, Sonam
Gyatso became known as His Holiness the Third Dalai Lama.
During Sonam Gyatso’s time and that of his successor, the warlord rulers of Tibet had
begun to feel too constrained by the steady wave of spiritual renaissance, popular
dedication to enlightenment education, and money- and time-consuming monasterybuilding. A period of turbulence ensued around the turn of the seventeenth century, with
the fate of the country in the balance. Would the secular forces of the remaining
militaristic aristocratic warlords prevail, curtailing the ascendancy of the monasterycentered lifestyle, in parallel with what was happening at the time in northern Europe,
China, and Japan? Or would they give up their ways of violence, lay down their arms,
and, once and for all, themselves embrace the path of spiritual evolution?
In 1642, almost exactly a thousand years after the building of the Jokhang cathedral,
His Holiness the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617–1682) was crowned king of Tibet, founding the
Ganden Palace Victory Government that Tibetans still consider their legitimate
government today. The “Great Fifth,” as he is known, created a unique form of
government eminently suited to Tibet’s special society. It was almost completely
demilitarized, acknowledging the centrality of the monastic institutions in the national
life and the priority given to nonviolence. The nobility was virtually expropriated,
retaining the use and income from parts of their hereditary estates only as salary for
service to the Ganden government. They were completely deprived of their private
armies, losing their feudal power of life and death over their peasants, who up to then
had closely resembled the medieval serfs of Russia and Europe.
Internationally, Tibetan independence and national integrity were guaranteed by the
new pan-Asian emperors of the era, the M anchus. A Tungusic people from the forests
north of Korea, they conquered northern China in 1644 and wished to conquer the rest
of East Asia undisturbed by any rivals. Due to his authority over the fearsome M ongols,
the Dalai Lama was seen as a potent ally by the new M anchu emperor. In 1651, an
alliance was formed between the M anchu Shun Chih emperor and the Great Fifth. The
M anchus recognized the Dalai Lama’s secular authority over Tibet and his spiritual
authority over the world as they knew it. The Dalai Lama recognized the M anchus as
legitimate rulers of M anchuria and China and as international protectors of the Buddhist
Dharma, its practitioners, and institutions. The bottom line was that the Dalai Lama
agreed to encourage the M ongols to practice Buddhism, and the M anchus agreed to
protect the peace for the demilitarized Buddhist societies. The Tibetan pacification of
the M ongols, the demilitarization of that most militarily powerful society, is one of the
remarkable social transformations in history, though it is no more astonishing than
Tibet’s self-transformation over the previous millennium.
During the three centuries of Tibet’s modern period, the national priority was on
monastic education, literary and philosophical creativity, the practice of meditation, the
development of ritual and festival arts, and so forth. Spiritual adepts were accepted as
the highest level of Tibetan society, considered to have become perfected Buddhas
through their practice of the Tantras (spiritual technologies) of Unexcelled Yoga (selfcultivation). They were inner-world adventurers of the highest daring, the Tibetan
equivalent of our astronauts—I think it is worth coining the term “psychonaut” to
describe them. They personally voyaged to the furthest frontiers of that universe which
their society deemed vital to explore: the inner frontiers of consciousness itself, in all its
transformations in life and beyond death.
In Western culture, the last frontiers of our material conquest of the universe are in
outer space. Our astronauts are our ultimate heroes and heroines. Tibetans, however, are
more concerned about the spiritual conquest of the inner universe, whose frontiers are in
the realms of death, the between, and contemplative ecstasies. So, the Tibetan lamas who
can consciously pass through the dissolution process, whose minds can detach from the
gross physical body and use a magic body to travel to other universes, these
“psychonauts” are the Tibetans’ ultimate heroes and heroines. The Dalai Lamas and the
several thousand “reincarnate” Lamas (also called “Tulku,” which means “Buddha
Emanation”) are these heroes and heroines. They are believed to have mastered the death,
between, and rebirth processes, and to choose continuously, life after life, to return to
Tibet out of compassion to lead the Tibetans in their spiritual national life and to benefit
all sentient beings.
Thus the modern Tibetan civilization was unique on the planet. Only such a special
civilization could have produced the arts and sciences of dying and death transmitted in
this book. I describe the unique psychological character complex that corresponds to the
modern Tibetan society as “inner modernity.” It should be understood to contrast with
the modern Western psychological character complex, which can be described as “outer
modernity.” The Western character complex is usually contrasted with a premodern
“traditional” character. It is often described as a complex of traits such as individualism,
openness and flexibility of identity, restless reflectiveness, and adherence to rationality.
This modern Western character complex is connected with a peculiar perception of all
things—including psychic or mental things—as ultimately reducible to quantifiable
material entities. This is what gives it its “outwardness.” The modern Tibetan character
complex shares the modern traits of individualism, openness and flexibility of identity,
reflectiveness, and rationality. But the Tibetan character is bound up with its peculiar
perception, derived from Buddhist civilization, of all things as infused with spiritual
value, as interconnected with mental states. In contrast to Western ideas, the Tibetan
view is that the mental or spiritual cannot always be reduced to material quanta and
manipulated as such—the spiritual is itself an active energy in nature, subtle but more
powerful than the material. The Tibetan view is that the “strong force” in nature is
spiritual, not material. This is what gives the Tibetan character its “inwardness.” Thus
while Western and Tibetan personalities share the complex of modernity of
consciousness, they are diametrically opposed in outlook, one focused outward on
matter and the other inward on mind.
This difference of personality underlies the difference between the two civilizations.
While the American national purpose is ever greater material productivity, the Tibetan
national purpose is ever greater spiritual productivity. Spiritual productivity is measured
by how deeply one’s wisdom can be developed, how broadly one’s compassion can exert
itself. Tibetan Buddhists believe that outer reality is interconnected with inner mental
development over a beginningless and endless series of lives, so they see no limit to how
far the self and the environment can be transformed for the better. The self can become a
Buddha, a being of perfect wisdom and compassion; and the environment can become a
perfect Buddha-land, wherein no one suffers pointlessly and all are there for the
happiness of all.
The ultimate example of the inwardly directed rationality of the modern Tibetan mind
is precisely our present concern, the Tibetan exploration of death. The outwardly
directed Western mind long ago dismissed the topic of death and future lives as archaic,
of concern only to the superstitious traditional mind. M aterialistic habits of thought
reduce the mind to matter and eliminate the soul. Ruling out the possibility of future
lives, death is merely a physiological condition, equated with a “flatline” on an
electroencephalograph. There is no interest at all in the states of the person or condition
of the mind after death. Scientific investigation restricts itself to the material quanta
perceivable by the physical senses, augmented by machinery, during this one bodily life.
At the same time, Westerners have set about exploring the outer world, the farthest
continents, the macro realms of the outer galaxies, and the micro realms of the cell, the
molecule, the atom, and the subatomic forces.
Tibetan inwardly directed reason put the material world second on its list of priorities.
Its prime concern was the world of inner experience, the waking, gross realm of causality,
relativity, sensation, percept and concept, and the subtle realm of image, light, ecstasy,
trance, dream, and finally, death and its beyond. The Tibetans considered the inner,
subtlemost, experiential realm the important point at which to assert control of all
subjective and objective cosmic events. And so they set about exploring this inner world,
using analytic insight and contemplative concentration to extend their awareness into
every crevice of experience. They used the manipulation of dreams and inner visions to
visit lucidly the territories of the unconscious. They used focused disidentification with
coarse subjectivity to gain access to the subtlest level of sentience. And they used an
augmented sense of mindfulness and memory to gain access to past life experience,
including the dreamlike experiences of the between states traversed from death to birth.
In spite of some neglect of its material progress, Tibet developed during its modern
period into a relatively happy land. Tibetan society was organized to maximize the
individual’s potential for inner development, economic pressure was mild, and conflict
within and warfare without were rare. However, it was still far from a perfected Buddhaland. In modern geopolitical terms, it became highly vulnerable during our century as a
result of one positive quality and one negative quality. Positively, it was long
demilitarized and therefore no match for the modern armies first of the British and
eventually of the Chinese. Negatively, it had become too isolated from other nations,
locking them out as Buddhism disappeared from them. Consequently, the only two
nations with a little knowledge of Tibet, the British and the Chinese, were able to
misrepresent Tibet to the rest of the world in any way that suited their immediate need.
When the British wanted to enact trade agreements with the sovereign Tibetan
government, they dealt with Tibet as the independent nation that it was. M eanwhile,
they let the world at large think of Tibet as under China, to keep the Russians out and to
keep the Chinese happy, pleased for the British to retain possession of Hong Kong and
its valuable trade opportunities. The Chinese likewise knew very well they did not
control Tibet, that Tibetans had no sense of being Chinese, and that no Chinese person
had ever had the slightest feeling that any Tibetan was a kind of Chinese. M eanwhile,
they still pretended to the world that they owned Tibet (which they call Shitsang, “the
Western Treasury”), that it had always been a part of China. Thus when the M aoist
government invaded Tibet in 1949, they told the world they were “liberating” their own
country’s Tibetan province from foreigners (there were half a dozen Europeans in Tibet).
But since Tibetans considered the Chinese to be foreigners, they resisted being
“liberated” to the death. The full force of the Red Army overwhelmed the Buddhist
Tibetans, and the Chinese occupation ever since has only endured by brute force. Over a
million Tibetans have died unnaturally, and the entire Buddhist culture has been
shattered. Not a single Tibetan does not dream and pray to be free and independent of
the invaders.
In order to transform Tibet into a part of China, the Chinese have attempted to
suppress the Tibetan language, Buddhism and the culture based on it, and all vestiges of
Tibetan national identity. Such a project is doomed to failure, as the Tibetans simply
cannot make themselves into Chinese. Therefore the attempt to make Tibetans into
Chinese ends up killing off the Tibetans, Fortunately, during this time His Holiness the
Fourteenth Dalai Lama has succeeded in maintaining a healthy community in exile, with
the patronage of the government of India. And there is a hope that the nations of the
world, if they learn about Tibet in time, will not let the genocide of the six million
Tibetans be completed in the 1990s.
What is Buddhism? This Great Book of Natural Liberation Through Understanding in
the Between will be supposed by readers to be a “Buddhist” approach to death and
dying. But if it were merely “Buddhist,” it would be relevant only for “Buddhists.”
There would be no point in translating it for the general public. The long-standing
Western interest in this “Book of the Dead” would be inexplicable. But only one aspect
of the Book of Natural Liberation is “religious” in the usual sense, that is, concerned
with a particular system of belief. For that matter, only one aspect of Buddhism itself is
Buddhism is a teaching originated by Shakyamuni Buddha about 2500 years ago. It is
not based on, or a reform of, any religion existing in ancient Indian culture. Nor was it
based on a revelation received from any sort of deity. The Buddha flatly rejected the
contemporary Indian form of the religious belief in an omnipotent world Creator. He did
not “believe in God” as Westerners understand God. To many Westerners, he would
appear an atheist (although he did accept the presence of nonomnipotent, superhuman
beings he called “gods”). He did not even consider belief or faith an end in itself, as many
religious people do, although he accepted reasonable beliefs as practically useful to
people. He encouraged people to question authority and use their power of reason, and
not to accept irrational traditions. In his personal quest of truth, he was often quite
Shakyamuni was called a “Buddha,” an “Awakened” or “Enlightened” person, because
he claimed to have achieved a perfect understanding of the nature and structure of reality.
After a normal education as a warrior prince of his era, he devoted six years of
concentrated study, yogic discipline, and meditative contemplation to the quest for
reality. He considered the human mind capable of reaching a full understanding of
everything, given enough native ability, the correct education, and heroic effort. Having
reached that full understanding himself during his thirty-fifth year, he felt that other
humans would also be able to achieve it. He dedicated the next forty-five years to
teaching all kinds of people. History records that large numbers of his contemporaries
did succeed in reaching high levels of realization. They formed a broad-based movement
that gradually spread through the countries of the Indian subcontinent, and eventually
throughout most of Asia. This movement often did have a religious dimension; but it had
equally important social and intellectual dimensions.
The Buddha used the Sanskrit word “Dharma” to designate his Truth or Teaching. In
the process he added a new dimension of meaning to the word. “Dharma” was derived
from the verb Idhr, “to hold,” and had a range of important meanings associated with
holding. It could mean a distinct phenomenon, one that held a particular character, or also
the particular character itself. It could mean a custom, duty, or law that held human
behavior in a particular pattern. It could also mean religion, in the sense of a held pattern
of belief and ritual. But the core of the Buddha’s discovery was the essential reality of
freedom—that underlying the lived reality of existence is the immediacy of total
freedom, especially freedom from suffering, from bondage, from ignorance. This essential
freedom can be realized by the human mind as its own deepest and most true condition.
This realization makes it possible for freedom to prevail over the habitual suffering of
personal experience. So the realized individual is thenceforth held apart from suffering;
not held in anything, but held out of binding patterns. Thus the new range of meanings of
“Dharma” concerned being held away from suffering. Dharma came to mean the Teaching,
the path of practice of the Teaching, the virtue of that practice, the reality or Truth
taught in that Teaching, and the freedom of that reality or Truth, nirvana itself. This
Dharma as “Teaching” is divided into two branches: the Textual Dharma and the
Experiential Dharma (the Teaching and its practice). Each of those is in turn divided into
three: the Textual into three types of verbal teachings, the Discipline, Discourse, and
Clear Science collections, and the Experiential into three types of higher learning, the
Ethical, M editational, and Wisdom higher educations. See figure 1.
Figure 1. S tructure of the Buddha Dharma
The Buddha taught the Dharma far and wide throughout India for over forty-five
years. Numerous people found his teachings beneficial, and they began to form a new
community within the old society. This new community was called the “Sangha”—
simply “the Community”—and it formed around a new institution at its core, a monastic
order of monks and nuns. Before Buddha, there had been wandering ascetics and hermits
in India, but he was the first to organize suburban communities of settled monastics. The
community became very important in the history of Buddhism, as it was the protective
structure around the individual who followed the Buddha’s example and educated him- or
herself in the teachings. These three main aspects of Buddhism, the Buddha, the Dharma,
and the Sangha—Teacher, Teaching, and Community—came to be known as the Three
Jewels (Skt. triratna) of Buddhism, that is, the three most precious things for the
individual seeking liberation from ignorance and suffering. Through the millennia since its
founding, people have been considered Buddhists when they “take refuge” in these
Three Jewels. They take refuge by trying to follow the Buddha’s example and teachings,
trying to understand the Dharma, and becoming a member of the Sangha.
Thus, the Buddha founded an educational movement that developed historically on
three levels: the social (and so, inevitably, political), the religious, and the philosophical
or scientific. The essence of all three movements lay in his realization of the relativity
and interdependence of all things, mental as well as physical. Rather than a founder of a
religion, he was primarily a critic of religion. He critiqued its absolutist tendencies, its
devaluation of human reason, and its legitimation of unreasonable, arbitrary, and
oppressive structures of authority. Reality, as Buddha saw it, is beyond dogmatic
theories, while freely open to unprejudiced experience. The human life form is extremely
well adapted to reality, and is extremely close to full understanding of it, which, when
attained, results in an extraordinary liberation and happiness.
During the Buddha’s time, there were many views of the nature of life, ranging from
spiritualistic soul theories embedded in elaborate theistic belief-systems, to a strikingly
modern, materialistic nihilism. The Buddha rejected all absolute soul theories,
postulations of a rigidly fixed identity or static personal essence, with his cardinal
doctrine of selflessness, or soullessness (anatma). He taught that the psychological habit
of assuming a fixed subjectivity, an unchanging identity, was a key obstacle to a good life.
But the Buddha never rejected the relative presence of a living self. He insisted on the
continuity of the changeable, fluid soul from life to life. He explicitly rejected the
contemporary nihilism that reduced even the relative, conventional, lived soul, self, or
identity to a random epiphenomenon of matter. He insisted on the relative self’s reality,
vulnerability, responsibility, and evolutionary potential. In fact his teaching of the
universal relativity of the self opened up a widely popular vision of a vast
interconnectedness of the individual with the boundless forms of life. This vision of
inevitable interconnectedness inspired the popular determination in Buddhist societies
for persons consciously to evolve toward realizing their highest potential and
transforming the whole world into a positive environment.
The Universal Vehicle (M ahayana) Buddhist scriptures, which became popular in
India about four centuries after the Buddha’s time, teach that a Buddha is a cosmic being
whose state of achievement can be described as consisting of Three Bodies. First, a
Buddha’s perfect wisdom becomes a Truth Body, a Body of Ultimate Reality, in that an
enlightened being experiences the whole universe as one with his or her own being.
Second, a Buddha’s perfect compassion becomes a Form Body, a limitless embodiment
that reaches out from the enlightened being’s blissful oneness with the ultimate reality of
freedom to help countless other beings escape from suffering by realizing their own
oneness with freedom. This Form Body is itself divided into two. There is a Beatific
Body, which is a sort of subtle or ethereal body made of a Buddha’s sheer joy at being
free of suffering, at having realized the absolute nature of reality. It is as infinite as
reality, a subtle radiant omnipresence of a Buddha’s joy throughout all things. Then there
is an Emanation Body, which arises out of the background energy of the Beatific Body
when a Buddha wishes to interact with ordinary beings, who cannot perceive the Beatific
presence around them, who feel suffering and alienation. Buddhas emanate—magically
create—whatever gross embodiments are appropriate to relate to beings, to liberate them
from their suffering, and ultimately to inspire them to discover their own enlightenment
and their own beatitude, Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha, is an Emanation
Body Buddha, but the Buddha who emanated himself as Shakyamuni is believed to have
an inexhaustible power to emanate himself in infinite other forms according to the needs
of beings. Thus, all Buddhas are understood to have these Three Bodies: Truth, Beatific,
and Emanation. These categories provide a useful framework for us to understand the
Tibetan sense of the inconceivable reality and presence of enlightened beings.
The Buddha taught that humans should investigate the relative world of material and
mental nature, in order to understand it thoroughly and improve the lives of all beings.
They should investigate not only through their senses, but also through an intensified
use of the subjective human mind itself, using reason and introspection, and cultivating
critical thought and focused concentration to degrees of acuity unimaginable to the
normal, untrained individual.
The Buddha founded and greatly furthered the tradition of Inner, or M ind, Science
(adhyatmavidya). It is called “science,” because it is an organized discipline for seeking
knowledge of the mind in an exact manner, with a view to freeing individuals from its
negative potentials and enabling them to realize its positive potentials. The Buddha set
up lifelong educational and research institutions, which eventually developed into what
came to be called monasteries and convents. These institutions, dedicated to higher
education, spread widely throughout India and the rest of Asia over the centuries after
Buddha’s time. They became a permanent presence in all Asian societies, until the
advent of either Islam or international secularism wiped them out. The study of the
death, between, and rebirth processes in particular was conducted by researchers within
these M ind Science institutions, the results being contained in a huge, cumulative
scientific literature on the subject. This scientific literature on death is unique in world
civilizations. It is the ultimate source of the Natural Liberation.
The Tibetan attitude toward death and the between is neither mystical nor mysterious.
This guidebook for the journey through the between shows how the reality of death fits
into the Tibetans’ world, vividly picturing the continuity between former, present, and
future lives. Their multilife perspective is no more (and no less!) a religious belief system
than our modern sense of the structure of the solar system, or of the pattern of the cycle
of seasons in a year. Tibetans considered it a matter of common sense and scientific fact
that animate beings exist along a continuum of lives, and that the death, between, and
rebirth processes follow a predictable pattern. They have credible accounts by
enlightened voyagers who have gone through the between experience consciously,
preserved the memory, and reported their experiences. Tibetans accept these reports of
their psychonauts just as we do those of astronauts who report what happened on the
moon. Tibetans also believe that most people can recover memories of their former lives
by a fairly elementary regime of meditation. Tibetans act on this Buddhist perspective in
a practical manner, using their lifetimes to educate themselves to understand the world
and to prepare for death and future lives by improving their ethical actions, emotional
habits, and critical insight.
Tibetans share our Western view of death in some ways, and in other ways see death
very differently. On a human level, they see it as we do, as a tragedy at the end of life.
They have methods for anticipating and warding off untimely death, for cheating even
timely death and for prolonging the precious human life. On this human level, they are
even more afraid of death than we modern materialists or humanists, who expect an
automatic, painless oblivion. Tibetans see an anesthetic oblivion as very improbable,
understanding death rather as a door to a transition that can be worse than fatally
dangerous for those unprepared or badly misdirected by negative habits and attitudes.
They thus naturally see death as a malevolent, powerful nihility that is lurking out there,
that will come for them at any time. In harmony with their inheritance from India, they
envision this terror as the ferocious, terrifying God of Death, Yama, king of the
underworld and judge of the dead. He is portrayed as blue-black in color, with a buffalo
head and two arms, holding a white spinal-column-and-skull club and a noose, phallus
erect, standing naked on the back of a fire-breathing buffalo. He is sometimes with his
consort, the fearsome Chamunda, who can also be considered a female personification of
his energy. He has numberless hordes of minions who do his bidding and roam around
collecting the souls of the dying. When he comes to call, a person cannot say no, they
must go with him down to the underworld. And there in his iron hall that is windowless
and doorless, their good and evil deeds are weighed in the balance. Yama judges them and
then sends them on, to the various heavenly realms if their virtue predominates, to the
animal and hellish realms if their sins predominate. If they are most fortunate and their
virtue includes great sensitivity, generosity, and intelligence, they will be able to return to
the human realm, which is considered better than heaven for spiritual practice. Tibetans
are terrified of Yama, and they look to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to save them from
judgment at his hands. They dramatize his presence at festivals and masquerades as a
fierce deity who is danced by a giant monk wearing a terrifying mask and a colorful
costume. He is always shown as ultimately tamed by the Buddha, by the Wisdom
Bodhisattva M anjushri, or by the Compassion Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in his form
of Padma Sambhava, the great adept and first historical savior of Tibet.
Though the personification of Death is vivid in the Tibetan imagination, we notice at
once that it is not Yama himself that is so awful, but rather his judgment and the
possibly negative fate he metes out. Tibetans have the commonsense view that life is
boundless, that we did not come out of nothing and cannot become nothing. We are both
beginningless and endless. Since we will always be involved in the relational realm, we
must know our inner freedom as well. If we do not, and are forced in our ignorance to
experience our inevitable involvement as an endless bondage, as a perpetual suffering, our
lives will be boundless torment.
Human life is characterized as being midway between states of excessive pain and
states of excessive pleasure. A being assumes human rebirth from life in other forms by
accumulating a vast amount of merit, through deeds of giving, moral interacting, and
tolerating, and an equally vast amount of intelligence, through long efforts of developing
critical wisdom and penetrating concentration. The human form is relatively free of
rigidly programmed instinctual reactions. Thus human beings are uniquely endowed with
the ability and opportunity to understand fully their situation, reprogram themselves
completely positively, attain the unexcelled perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood, and
become boundlessly happy, alive, radiant, and helpful to other beings. To die
unenlightened and lose the liberty and opportunity of human embodiment before
attaining enlightenment, and then to be reborn involuntarily in extremely miserable
conditions innumerable further times—this would be the ultimate tragedy. Once human
life is understood as providing the liberty and opportunity for evolutionary freedom and
altruistic enlightenment, its loss is far worse than is the loss of life assumed to be either
sheer obliteration into nothingness or secure passage to heaven. It is something like
expecting loss of life to result in a passage into hell or purgatory. This is a danger that is
more than fatal. It is a doorway to nearly limitless torment. Thus, the Tibetan sense of
the beginningless and boundless nature of life, of beings as endlessly reborn, does not
palliate the fear of death at all. It lends an intensity to this life that is quite compelling. It
is what really underlies the strong religiosity and spirituality of the Tibetans, which does
not come from their environment of highland wastes and snowy mountains.
On the more spiritual level, however, Tibetans have learned to view the ordinarily
fearsome death as a strong force close to life, a powerful impulse to the good, an
intensifier of positive attitudes and actions. They tend not to get caught in the reification
of death as a force of pure evil, some sort of radical, insensate, arbitrary malevolence.
They rather learn to see it as nonexistent as a thing in itself apart from life. This sense of
the relationality of even death encourages them to view death on the highest level as the
immediate, omnipresent realm of freedom, not merely part of life but the ground of life.
Tibetans observe that anyone can die at any time in any place. Our sense of the
concreteness of the life situation, of the solidity of the waking world of the five senses
and their objects, is a complete error. Nothing that we think we are, do, feel, or have has
any essence, substance, stability, or solidity. All the somethings in and around us with
which we preoccupy ourselves from morning to night are potentially nothing to us. If we
died, they would dissolve in our tightest grasp, forgotten if they were in our mind, lost if
they were in our hand, faded into blank numbness if they were our mind and body.
Surprisingly, once we become accustomed to the omnipresent possibility of death in life,
we feel greatly liberated. We realize we are essentially free at all times in all situations.
We realize that all compulsion is only based on the illusion of substantial continuation,
enduring substance, binding essence. We become completely immersed in the medium of
freedom. Our participation in relationalities is, in reality, totally voluntary. This sense of
the immediacy of freedom is exhilarating. This higher understanding of death is
associated with Yamantaka, the Terminator of Death, who is the most terrifying
personification of the wisdom of selflessness, the realization of the emptiness of
People have noticed that Tibetan culture is highly colorful, that the Tibetans are on the
whole a cheerful, vibrant, and lively lot. They are individualistic and unpredictable. They
cherish freedom in all respects and on all levels. They have used their independence to
practice the enlightenment teaching of the Buddha, not just to develop materially or
militarily. They have lived intelligently by their lights, have used human life well and
extracted its fullest potential for evolutionary, not just material, progress. A great
measure of the unique beauty of their civilization comes from their vivid awareness of
the immediacy of death and the freedom that awareness brings.
What is death? The question is a scientific one. Western science holds that a “flatline” on
the EEG means cessation of heartbeat and brain activity, and therefore represents death.
The illusion of the subjective “I” in the individual consciousness, assumed by
materialists to correspond with the presence of brain wave activity, should cease with
the cessation of brain waves. Yet the picture of death as a nothing in consciousness is not
a scientific finding. It is a conceptual notion. There are many cases of people being
revived after “flatlining” for some time, and they report intense subjective experiences.
In the popular imagination developed by a modern scientific education, death is most
often supposed to be a terminal state, a nothingness, an oblivion, a void that destroys
life, that swallows it up forever. It is aligned with sleep, darkness, and unconsciousness.
It is feared by those who feel happy, or feel they should be happy. It is sought after by
those who are in misery, filled with unbearable pain and anguish, as a blessed final
anesthesia. But science should not neglect to question this picture. In fact, inner science
begins with the analysis of nothingness. Nothing is after all just nothing. It cannot be a
place that resembles an idea of nothingness. A place involves area, or extension. It is
defined by coordinates and boundaries. It is not nothing. It is room. Nothing has no
room, nor can anything be located within nothing. Nothing cannot have an inside or an
outside. It cannot destroy, swallow, or terminate. As nothing, it can have no energy or
effect. As nothing, it cannot be a thing, a realm, a state, or anything. It is absolutely
nothing to fear. It is nothing to hope for.
This ultimate end of everything, this diametric opposite of all, is nothing in itself. And
yet we think of nothing as something. Clearly, “nothing” is that conceptual entity that
shows most clearly the illusory status of all conceptual entities. To use the verb “exist”
about it is a misuse of language. To refer to nothing as “it,” “this,” “that,” or whatever,
without quotes, is a mistake, as only the concept can be referred to. “Nothing” is
categorically unimaginable, so it is incorrect to picture nothing as a destination. It is
wrongly imagined to be a ground state giving off no reading, which appears as an EEG
flatline. It is incoherently imagined to be an anesthesia following a loss of all sensation. It
is wrongly conceived to be a place of quiet within which consciousness can slip. It
cannot be entered.
When we do imagine nothing in the above ways, we are actually doing nothing more
than comforting ourselves. We are building our image of the state of nothingness on our
habitual sense of deep sleep. We lose concerns, worries, sensations, and finally
consciousness itself as we fall asleep. We “fall” asleep, having a sense of relaxing into a
ground state. We may have a last moment of awareness of slipping away, we may have a
first moment of waking up complete with a memory of having been in a dream, or, less
easily, of waking up in a dream or losing consciousness out of a dream. But we do not
have any direct experience of being unconscious, so we cannot remember having been
unconscious. Thus our sense of having rested in a state of nothingness of consciousness
is an inference based on the last and first moments of threshold awareness.
We associate sleep with refreshment, rest, peace, and quiet. Someone with a mental or
physical sickness who cannot sleep is considered to suffer torture, and sleep deprivation
will destroy anyone’s body before too long. We love sleep. Actually sleep does not
correspond with a flatline, absolute lack of brain activity. Our brains can be more active
during dreaming than in some waking states. Sleep is thus materialistically very different
from the death state of a corpse. When we imagine death as entry into nothingness, we
are merely comforting ourselves. Our sense of death as a sleep is a mere analogy even
from a materialistic perspective. It is also likely that the dualistic model of “liberation”
that motivates Individual Vehicle Buddhism and mystical forms of Hinduism, Taoism,
and Western monotheism—a model of liberation as a state of absolute aloofness from the
world of life—is derived from this universal human experience of sleep. In most cultures,
sleep is accepted as a blissful withdrawal into an aloof state of peace, a restful separation
from troubles, worries, pains, and entanglements. So religious ideals of nirvana,
conceived as a state apart, ultimate liberation from pain and sorrows, or a supreme
release, may be nothing but guaranteed states of permanent, gloriously unconscious
When we see this equation, we can understand at once why materialists scoff at
spiritual or religious forms of liberation. Why would they need it? They have already
guaranteed themselves permanent rest. They have a guaranteed nothingness waiting for
them, attained without the slightest effort on their part, without ethical sacrifice, without
realization, without developing any skill or knowledge. All they have to do is fall asleep,
a skill they have already cultivated during thousands of nights.
But what is it that provides them the guarantee of a restful nothing awaiting them after
death? Do they have any credible evidence? No one has ever returned to report entry
into nothingness. They have no recorder, no viewer, no extension of their senses into the
subjectivity of a dead person. They cannot physically probe into the brain-dead state of
any being. They have no convincing description of nothingness, which obviously has no
attributes. They have never observed even one material thing become nothing. Why
should the energy reality of a state of awareness, be it even a minimal awareness of pure
rest, be the exception to the law of physics that energy is conserved and only
transformed? What makes the materialists believe so powerfully in the nothingness of
that one energy continuum?
The answer is, obviously, that they have no grounds at all for this belief. It is merely a
belief based on brave assertion, corroborated by many other believers, all without a shred
of evidence, reinforced by constant repetition and dogmatic insistence. It provides
ultimate comfort, satisfying the religious urge to have a complete sense of reality. This
comfortingness might give rise to suspicion or doubt, so it is disguised for the materialist
by the pretense that nothingness is something frightening, something undesirable, a bitter
pill that he or she, the brave modern human grown-up, has learned to swallow.
This is why materialist scientists are so dogmatically dismissive of evidence about the
postdeath continuity of consciousness. They cannot consider the evidence even casually,
because this would generate questions about their own belief. Like any religious
dogmatism, since it is a logically weak belief, often admittedly irrational, based on no
credible evidence, it cannot allow even the slightest questioning, for fear that the resulting
doubt could not be withstood.
In fact, a considerable body of credible evidence supports the probability of postdeath
existence of consciousness and sentient future life continuity. First, it is the natural thing
to expect, since everything else in nature exhibits continuity through changes. Second,
many credible witnesses report that they died and experienced certain adventures. Some
died clinically and were revived. Some remember as children details and circumstances of
former lives, and some of their memories are corroborated by other people, standing up
to the investigation of reputable researchers. Some codify the data collected in various
ways and present it in manuals in traditions of dying used in many cultures. And the
majority of humans in most civilizations feel they must have some concern for the state
of their awareness in the future lives they will be obliged to face.
No sane person fears nothingness. It might be boring. It might not be delightful. But at
least it should be restful, peaceful, and painless. And relative to all the troubles of
wakefulness, it is pleasant and much sought after by every one of us. What we do fear,
and should fear rationally, are pain and suffering. We work hard in life to avoid pain and
suffering for ourselves and those dear to us. So we are afraid of death, not because we
know it is nothing, but because we know in our bones it cannot automatically bring us
nothing. We fear the many painful somethings it might bring us. So our sensible human
caution wants to know what it will bring, how we can prepare to avoid the bad and gain
the good—what to expect and how to prepare for it. We know that falling asleep tonight
will not prevent tomorrow and its challenges. So we prepare for tomorrow as best we
can. The better we are prepared, the more happily we fall asleep. We know that the
sleep of death will not automatically prevent new situations for consciousness. So we
prepare for those new situations. And the better prepared we are, the more relaxed we
will be when we have to die.
For even the most diehard materialist, Pascal’s famous “wager” is still compelling: If
we become nothing after death, we will not be there to regret having prepared for
something. But if we are something after death, and we have not prepared at all, or are
badly prepared, then we will long feel bitter, painful regret. So we have everything to
lose by not preparing, and nothing to gain; we have everything to gain by preparing, and
nothing to lose. Should our preparation be for nothing, a little time spent on it in this life
will not be regretted for eternity. Should our preparation be for something, the time taken
away from it for the sake of this life’s business or pleasure will be deeply regretted for
eternity as the waste of a vital resource.
So, those of us who have either the prudence or the adventuresomeness to deal with a
life situation of total relativity in space and time can safely proceed. There are no
boundaries to our interconnectedness with limitless dimensions and universes. And there
are no limits to our continuity of development, bad or good. A very powerful
commitment—to ameliorate the situations in which we find ourselves along with others
—arises from the understanding of the inevitability of being situated in infinite relativity
and continuity. The abandonment of any reification of nothingness leaves us with an
absolute preoccupation with the quality of relative situations. This preoccupation
demands that we use every means at our disposal to improve them.
To fall back on particular religious beliefs supported by no rational evidence or
plausible inference is not sensible, given the fact that our choices of actions might have
unlimited consequences. Having cured ourselves of the temptation to reify nothingness,
why would we reify some improbable soul-state that reproduces the characteristics of a
pleasant nothingness—a blissful anesthesia, aloofness from connection to conditions,
permanent isolation from experience, and all guaranteed by an absolute, nonrelative
power that controls the relative yet is unaffected by it? Here, rather, we should use
Pascal’s wager in reverse. If, due to an inevitable destiny of soul, an Omnipotent Being
will save us no matter what we do, we will not regret having spent a bit of time
preparing unnecessarily to save ourselves. But if there is no such Being, or if there are
divine Beings more powerful than us who can help us if we are prepared to accept their
help, then we will deeply regret for a very long time our failure to prepare ourselves.
There is no reason for a sound faith to be irrational. A useful faith should not be blind,
but should be well aware of its grounds. A sound faith should be able to use scientific
investigation to strengthen itself. It should be open enough to the spirit not to lock itself
up in the letter. A nourishing, useful, healthful faith should be no obstacle to developing a
science of death. In developing such a science, it behooves the investigator to consider all
previous attempts to do so, especially those traditions with a long development and a
copious literature. Of all these, the science of death preserved in the Indo-Tibetan
tradition is perhaps the most copious of all.
Given the boundless interconnectedness of living forms, beginningless and endless, and
spread throughout an infinity of space, the materialist picture of evolution as natural
selection operating purposelessly, yet efficiently developing life forms through random
mutation from a definite beginning point within a finite theater of planetary environment,
needs some revision. First of all, postulated definite beginnings and finite settings are
always suspect. The materialist account describes reasonably the material, causal
development process, but why should not mind as well as body develop and mutate?
The Buddhist view of all this, the psychobiological evolutionary account known as
the “theory of karma,” is very like the Darwinian idea of evolution. The karma theory
describes a “great chain of being,” postulating a kinship between all observed species of
beings, and a pattern of development of one life form into another. Humans have been
monkeys in the past, and all animals have been single-celled animals. The difference in
the karma theory is that individuals mutate through different life forms from life to life.
A subtle, mental level of life carries patterns developed in one life into the succeeding
ones. Species develop and mutate in relation to their environments, and individuals also
develop and mutate from species to species. This karmic evolution can be random, and
beings can evolve into lower forms as well as higher ones. Once beings become conscious
of the process, however, they can purposively affect their evolution through choices of
actions and thoughts. Although there are undeniable differences, the karma theory gives
an evolutionary explanation of how beings are the way they are. So I have translated
karma throughout as “evolution” or “evolutionary action.”
Karma means action that causes development and change, and so is close to what we
mean by evolution. There is no need to retain the Indian word karma. Some translators
do so because of a factor of mystification; they feel that nothing in the target language
can reproduce the unique meaning of the original term. Some Westerners who delve into
Eastern thought also keep the term because they are thinking of karma mystically, as a
kind of fate. But in Buddhist science, it has nothing to do with fate—it is an impersonal,
natural process of cause and effect. Our karma at a given moment of life or death or the
between is the overall pattern of causal impulses resulting from former actions connected
with our life-continuum. These form a complex that impresses its effects on our bodies,
actions, and thoughts. In turn, our ongoing actions of body, speech, and mind form new
causal impulses, which determine the nature and quality of our lives in the future. This
complex can be called our evolutionary momentum. There is an old Tibetan saying,
“Don’t wonder about your former lives; just look carefully at your present body! Don’t
wonder about your future lives; just look at your mind in the present!” This expresses
the sense that our present body has evolved from a long evolution driven by former
actions, and our future embodiments will be shaped by how we think and what we
decide to do in our present actions.
The time of the between, the transition from a death to a new rebirth, is the best time
to attempt consciously to affect the causal process of evolution for the better. Our
evolutionary momentum is temporarily fluid during the between, so we can gain or lose a
lot of ground during its crises. Tibetans are highly aware of this. It is why they treasure
the Book of Natural Liberation so much as a guide to bettering their fate.
Buddhists have schematized the possible life realms into six main categories. Negative
possible experiences can increase limitlessly, leading to forms and embodiments of
experience that are utterly hellish, as those realms have been imagined by Eastern as well
as Western imaginations. Buddhists have developed elaborate pictures of the eight hot
hells, the eight cold hells, the eight crushing hells, and the eight cutting hells, moving out
imaginatively from the painful experiences of heat, cold, compression, and dissection.
There are mentally excruciating hell depictions as well, infinite in their terrifying variety
and experiential negativity. These hells are produced by negative evolutionary actions
driven predominantly by hate. They are the feedback constructions and magnifications
of limitless continua of hate. Fortunately, no sojourn in hell can logically be eternal,
though they seem of infinite duration to the agonized sufferer in them. I have called the
beings in these realms “hell-beings.”
Next there are the realms of the pretans, often called “hungry ghost realms.” Pretans
are certainly hungry and thirsty, but they are not ghosts. They are considered living
beings caught in realms of extreme frustration. I have anglicized their Indian name preta
and call them “pretans.” Greed, the desire to incorporate, is magnified and fed back to
produce the pretan realms, just as hate creates the hells. Pretans undergo infinite
permutations of the tortures of Tantalus. Some have giant stomachs the size of Yankee
Stadium, narrow throats miles long and the diameter of pin holes, and insatiable hunger
and thirst. When they find something resembling food, it is hard to get, hard to eat and
swallow, and it burns on its way down and creates inconceivable pain instead of giving
satisfaction. Pretans are incarnations of hunger, thirst, craving, and frustration.
As the hell-beings are incarnations of hate and the pretans of greed, animal life forms
are created by accumulated ignorance, folly, or stupidity. Animals are more familiar to us,
being close to the human life form. They suffer from relative lack of intelligence and
limited ability to communicate. They are bound mainly to involuntary, instinct-driven
reactions to situations. Their potential for freedom is extremely limited, They are not
looked down on by Buddhists as intrinsically inferior to humans; they also have souls,
they also suffer, and they also will attain enlightenment. But their situation is not well
suited to intensive positive development, due to the fixity of their instinctual ignorance.
They need a special kind of care and assistance to help them evolve, care that a human
must almost become a Buddha to provide effectively.
Humans, in their realm nearby the animals, are also incarnations of all the negativities,
but have become free of the extremes of hate, greed, and ignorance that bind the hell-
beings, pretans, and animals. The human life form is the evolutionary product not only
of these negativities, but also of their opposites, patience, generosity, and intelligent
sensitivity. Over long evolutionary periods prior to taking life as a human—over billions
of lifetimes—infinitesimal quanta of patience have diminished the force of hell-producing
hate, arising in the form of slight decreases of hate-reactions at being hurt. Infinitesimal
quanta of detachment or generosity have diminished the force of pretan-producing greed,
arising as slight decreases of attachment-reactions to habitual objects of desire. And both
tolerance and generosity are stimulated by infinitesimal quanta of heightened sensitivity
to other beings, which counteracts the self-centered delusions that dominate the animal
existence and arise as slight decreases in self-preoccupied absorption in the pursuit of
instinctual programs, and hence in momentary noticings of the needs of other animals.
The cumulative effect of these tiny voluntary departures from the push of the instincts
of beings in the three “bad estates,” or “horrid realms” (hell, pretan, and animal),
develops the evolutionary momentum to loft a being into the human life form. And this
is why the human life form is considered such a precious treasure, a hard-won,
magnificent achievement, not to be wasted carelessly. Relatively speaking, human life has
freedom from necessity of involuntary drivenness by instinctual reactions, and the
opportunity to use that freedom with intelligence and sensitivity to attain ultimate
freedom and reliable happiness.
Beyond the human life realm is the life realm of the antigods, or titans, as I have
translated their Indian name asura. They have freedom and opportunity beyond that of
the human being; indeed, they have risen to their estate from the human level, usually,
but they have invested their generosity, tolerance, and sensitivity in the pursuit of
power. They have been caught in the thrall of competitiveness and are driven by
jealousy. They want to outdo other beings. They love to fight. They live in heavenlike
realms near the heavens, and they are constantly trying to compete with the gods,
attempting to take the heaven realms away from them. Since their lives of constant
fighting and killing and dying habituate them to rage, they tend eventually to fall down
into the hells.
The highest egocentric life forms in terms of sheer merit and intelligence are those of
the gods. Due to their long evolutionary practice of generosity, sensitivity, and tolerance,
coupled with their mastery of mind control, they ascended from the human life form
through various paradises. They have more freedom and opportunity than humans, but
the very richness of their endowment is their greatest danger: They feel so great and
grand, they have such comforts, pleasures, powers, and glories, their lifespans are so
long, and the lower realms and the possible sufferings of egocentric lives seem so far
away from them, that it is very hard for them to use their freedom creatively. They are
dominated by pride, and tend to fall back below the human level when their extremely
long lives lose the evolutionary momentum that created them.
There are three regions within the god realm, the desire, pure form, and formless
regions. The desire region consists of six heavens, two of them terrestrial though invisible
to humans, and four celestial heavens that still have a kind of landscape for the deities
within them. The deities of these heavens experience a paradisiacal existence, but as a
result they lose the drive for ultimate freedom and happiness in a seemingly never-ending
round of high-quality pleasures. Above the six desire heavens are the sixteen pure form
heavens, within which deities exist in bodies of pure energy. They are said to be
“Brahma-bodied,” meaning they are like transgalactic energy clouds of bliss and
brilliance. Their self-delight is their chief failing, and though they have vast intelligence,
they tend to ignore the memory of their past as weaker, suffering beings, their sense of
the plight of infinite other beings around them throughout the multiverse, and the
possibility of their future vulnerability. “Beyond” these pure form heavens—though the
spatial term “beyond” loses meaningfulness here—are the four formless heavens, those
of infinite space, infinite consciousness, absolute nothingness, and beyond consciousness
and unconsciousness. In these heavens dwell countless trillions of gods who have
withdrawn from involvement in forms, driven by the pursuit of the absolute. Aiming at
the ever more peaceful, the ever more subtle, and the ever more real, they are not
safeguarded by the critical awareness of the constructedness of all states, their emptiness
and relativity. They remain within realms of dead calm for extremely long periods of
time, untroubled by any concern, secure in their sense of having achieved final ultimacy,
of having become one with the absolute. They are most subtly locked by pride and
delusion into the ultimate self-constructed world of alienation and self-preoccupation
imaginable. Buddhists consider these heavens and the life forms of the gods to be the
most dangerous pitfall for meditators, because they are so close to what the
philosophically uneducated expect the absolute to be: an infinite objectivity, an infinite
subjectivity, nothingness, and an infinite indefinability. Only the understanding of
voidness, the relativity of all things and states, provides the critical defense against
succumbing to the apparent calm and transcendentality of these heavens and becoming
reborn there for a very long time.
The “six realms of migration” are graphically represented everywhere throughout
Tibet and elsewhere in the Buddhist world in the “wheel of life” often found on temple
walls. This figure represents the experience of the dying person, who flies into the
“mouth of Death” (the deity Yama, holding the wheel in mouth and hands and feet), and
lands on the wheel of egocentric life according to his or her evolutionary momentum (see
color insert, plate 4).
The Book of Natural Liberation presupposes this cosmological context as the setting
for the deceased person’s journey through the between. Once one has felt the boundless
interconnectedness of all life forms, the inspiring infinite horizon of positive evolution
toward Buddhahood is accompanied by the terrifying infinite horizon of negative
evolution or degeneration toward the animal, pretan, or hell-being life forms. The horrid
states are truly frightening and definitely to be avoided. Nothingness would be far
preferable. Awareness of the possible horrid states is a powerful motivator toward
positive development for oneself, and an intense catalyst for compassion for others. It is
indispensable for developing the messianic drive to save other beings from suffering that
is called the will to, or spirit of, enlightenment. This is the spiritual conception that
changes an ordinary egocentric being into an altruistic bodhisattva.
Some Asian teachers have said in recent decades that the horrid states are simply
metaphorical and not to be taken literally, that they merely indicate states of mind to be
avoided. There is some truth to that, of course, especially since the whole universe also
consists of states of mind. It was also practical of those teachers in that their students,
Westerners with a certain background and education, might have been frightened away
from an edifying path of learning and meditation by the prospect of the crackling
brimstone fires of hell they thought they had long ago escaped. But in the final analysis
the metaphorical approach is misleading. And it no longer is quite so necessary. All the
world is in some sense created by the mind, from the infinitely positive to the infinitely
negative. If you step out in front of a freight train, its painful crushing of you is all in the
mind as well. A liberated person, viscerally aware of the precise sense of “just being in
the mind,” would have no problem standing in front of such a train if there were any
benefit for beings from doing so. But it takes a person of such ability to ignore the
possibility of hell, the pretan realm, the animal realm, or even the worse forms of human
life without liberty and opportunity. It is more healthy for the rest of us to fear being
crushed by freight trains—it gives us energy to get out of their way. It is healthy for us
to fear letting negativities go unchecked because of the infinitely negative consequences
they can produce—it gives us energy to nip negativities in the bud.
If we are going to use the science of death to develop the art of dying well, we must
realize that all these realms need to be considered just as real as our present lives in the
human realm. Those who have remembered their own previous lives have reported this
to be the case. And it makes logical sense that the life forms in the ocean of evolution
would be much more numerous than just the number of species on this one tiny little
material planet we can see around us nowadays. So, the encouragement provided by the
“it’s all in your mind” approach can be useful. But we should remember that it cannot be
applied selectively to those aspects of reality we do not like. All of reality is in the
mind, and the mind has us experience it as “out there.” So we should still take care to see
to it that “out there” is beautiful and not horrible, to prevent the horrible and develop the
The six realms scheme gives a static cross section of the ordinary Buddhist cosmos. We
need also a sense of the Buddhist view of the boundless process of existence experienced
by the enlightened. A soul’s continuing life-process endlessly goes through the phases of
death state, between state, and life state. These phases are parallel within a single life to
deep sleep, the dream state, and the waking state. And within the waking state there is a
third parallel cycle, the deep trance state, the subtle body-mind state (a consciously
directed out-of-body state, known as magic body), and the gross body reentry state.
These sets of three are connected with the standard analysis of the Buddha state into the
Three Buddha Bodies, the Truth Body, the Beatific Body, and the Emanation Body. The
practice of Tantric yoga aims to align and transmute ordinary death, the sleep state, and
trance into the Buddha Truth Body; the ordinary between, the dream state, and the
waking subtle, magic body-mind state into the Buddha Beatific Body; and ordinary life,
the waking state, and the integrated gross body into the Buddha Emanation Body.
Figure 2. The Three Buddha Bodies and their analogues
In the context of practices such as those presented in the Book of Natural Liberation,
oriented toward preparing for a successful use of the ordinary between state to accelerate
progress toward Buddhahood, the processes of the sequence of lives, daily life, and the
single lifetime can also be described as the “six betweens,” the life, dream, trance, deathpoint, reality, and existence betweens. This scheme is used to create in the practitioner a
sense that all moments of existence are “between” moments, unstable, fluid, and
transformable into liberated enlightenment experience. Thus, the life between is normal
living, understood as existing between birth and death. The dream between is the period
between deep sleep and the waking state. The trance between is the state between the
waking state of dualistic consciousness and the enlightened awareness of transcendent
wisdom. The death-point between is the momentary flash or several-day period of
unconsciousness between life and the reality between. The reality between is the
prolonged conscious state (sometimes as long as a fortnight) between the death-point
and existence betweens. The existence between is the second prolonged, conscious state
of the between traveler, consisting of the experiences of encountering various birthplaces
in a womb, egg, moisture, or lotus; it occurs between the reality between and conception,
or birth into the life between. This way of describing all aspects of the normal life cycle
can be schematized as in figure 3.
These six betweens are designed to emphasize the transitional nature of all moments
of existence anywhere on an individual’s life-continuum. The schemes of the Three
Bodies and the six betweens are used to create a context supportive of efforts to
transmute the ordinary round of suffering of persons locked into egocentric selfpreoccupation into an experience of love and happiness.
Figure 3. The life cycle as the six betweens
Having laid out the outlines of the cosmos underlying the Book of Natural Liberation,
what is the Tibetan model of the body-mind complex? The Buddhist sciences put forth a
number of models for different purposes. The schemes we need to understand here are
those of the three levels of gross, subtle, and extremely subtle body and mind, the five
aggregates, the five elements, and the six senses. Before describing them, we should bear
in mind that all such schemes in Buddhist sciences are heuristic devices, patterns easy to
remember. There need not absolutely be only five or six of this or that. In each case, one
could analyze things into more or fewer categories. The sets used by the Tibetans are
those that they have found most useful in their long experience. Conceptual schemes are
like lenses in a camera. A scene with a 105 mm. lens looks different than it does with a
35 mm. lens. There is no need to argue over which is more true to what is out there.
They are merely different levels of magnification.
The three levels of the body-mind complex are used to provide a framework for
Buddhist practitioners to integrate their subtle, contemplative experiences with their
ordinary experience. This enables them to alter their habitual self-identification process,
in order to enter usually unconscious states consciously. Thus, when we see something
or feel a sensation, we are normally conscious only of the surface level of the experience,
the tree over there or the ache in here. We are not conscious of the photons of light
striking the neurons of sensitivity in the microscopic workings of the optic nerves. We
are not aware of the neurotransmitter chemicals flashing signals through the central
nervous system to let the brain know there is an ache in the stomach. But the Buddhist
inner scientist or psychonaut seeks to become conscious of such normally unconscious
processes. She thus needs the equivalent of a microscope for this inner exploration. So,
she develops a subtle model of the self, with which she trains herself to identify, in order
to experience directly the subtler inner processes.
The body-mind complex is analyzed into three levels: gross, subtle, and extremely
subtle. The gross body is the body of flesh, blood, bone, and other substances that can
be further analyzed into the five main elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and space.
Further analysis down to the level of modern elemental chemistry is considered too fine
for this context, reaching a level of differentiation that is out of touch with the selfidentifying imagination. The gross mind that corresponds to this body is the mind of the
six sense-consciousnesses, the five that correspond to the physical senses of the eyes,
ears, nose, tongue, and body, and the sixth, mental sense-consciousness that operates
within the central nervous system coordinating all the input from the senses with
concepts, thoughts, images, and volitions.
The subtle body roughly corresponds to what we think of as the central nervous
system. It is not as much the “wet-ware” (brain-matter) of the system as it is the pattern
structuring it into a vessel of experience. The nerve channels are a structure of energy
pathways that consist of thousands of fibers radiating out from five, six, or seven nexi,
called wheels, complexes, or lotuses, themselves strung together on a three-channel
central axis that runs from midbrow to the tip of the genitals, via the brain-crown and the
base of the spine. Within this network of pathways, there are subtle “drops” of
awareness-transmitting substances, moved around by subtle energies called winds. The
subtle mind corresponding to these structures and energies consists of three interior
states that emerge in consciousness the instant subjective energy is withdrawn from the
gross senses. These three are called luminance, radiance, and imminence (the deepest
state of the subtle mind), and are likened to pure moonlight, pure sunlight, and pure
darkness. In unenlightened persons these three are mixed with normally subconscious
instinctual drive-patterns, called the eighty natural instincts (a long list including various
types of desires, aggressions, and confusions).
The extremely subtle body is called the indestructible drop; it is a tiny energy pattern
existing normally only in the center of the heart wheel or complex. The extremely subtle
mind that corresponds to it is the intuition of clear light, called transparency. At this
extremely subtle level, the body-mind distinction is abandoned, as the two are virtually
inseparable. This indestructible-drop transparent awareness is the Buddhist soul, the
deepest seat of life and awareness, whose continuity is indestructible, though it
constantly changes while moving from life to life. To achieve conscious identification
with this body-mind, to experience reality from this extremely subtle level of awareness,
is tantamount to attaining Buddhahood. And this is the real goal of the Book of Natural
Another important way of analyzing the gross body-mind complex is the scheme of
the five aggregates, or processes: the material, sensational, conceptual, volitional, and
consciousness processes of the individual life. The Sanskrit word for these, skandha,
literally means heap. “Aggregate” is standard for Buddhist translations, though in some
respects I prefer “process,” indicating their dynamic quality. The first of these processes
corresponds with the gross body, and the latter four analyze mind and its functions into
conceptually and introspectively manageable levels. The original purpose of the
aggregates scheme was to explore the body and mind in order to locate that which is
habitually experienced as the fixed self; to discover the unfindability of anything mental
or physical which can serve as that fixed self; and through that insight to attain liberation
from bondage to the habitual sense of fixed identity. The following figure summarizes
this scheme of the five aggregates, or processes, of the body-mind complex.
Figure 4. The gross, subtle, and extremely subtle body-mind complex
In these schemes, the gross body-mind complex begins at birth and ceases at death,
except for mental consciousness, which changes for the between-being since it is no
longer embedded in gross matter and preoccupied with the input of the five physical
senses. Dream consciousness is an instance in normal life of mental consciousness
operating independently of the gross physical senses. It is an important analogy or even
precursor of the between-consciousness: The five gross senses cease operating in sleep,
and mental consciousness continues more subtly. During most dream experiences, mental
consciousness produces out of itself a simulation of eyes and ears and even an
environment, in order for the dream being to hear sounds and see sights and colors. The
sense of having a body that sometimes emerges in a dream is an important analogue of
the sense of self of a between-being. Normal people without special training rarely have
such a sense. M any rarely remember dreams, almost none remember the first arisal of the
dream or the dissolving out of the dream, and very few are capable of lucid dreaming—
dreaming while being aware they are dreaming, without waking up. The development of
such abilities is of primary importance in developing the ability to die lucidly, to remain
self-aware of what and where one is during these transitional experiences.
An important first step toward the ability to die lucidly is developing a sensitivity to
the transitions between these various states. The subtle body-mind schemes are designed
specifically for that purpose. The subtle-body scheme of channels, winds, and drops can
be employed by mental consciousness in the process of unfolding special types of inner
sensitivities. The channels include the 72,000 circulatory passages within the body,
which are structured around a central axis of three main central channels running from
midbrow via the crown down in front of the spine to the tip of the sexual organ via the
coccyx, with the five nexus wheels at brain, throat, heart, navel, and genitals. There are
various pictures of these wheels and channels, because the practitioner can visualize
them in a variety of ways, depending on the specific inner sensibilities he is trying to
Figure 5. The five aggregates of the individual life
The energies that flow within these channels, the subtle winds, are schematized into
five main and five branch winds, which have specific bases, ranges, colors, functions, and
characters. The details of this are not essential in this context. It is enough to emphasize
that becoming aware of the body’s functions in terms of these energies is the key
technique for the processes of gaining control over the life and death functions. Finally,
the drops are the awareness-transmitting substances, chemical essences associated with
genetic materials. They form the base of specific consciousnesses located in specific
centers at different times in different states. For example, in the Kalachakra system,
there is a special system of four kinds of drops. Waking-state drops form at brow or
navel during waking activity, providing the focus of awareness or the center of the sense
of self during waking experience. Dream-state drops form at the throat or the base of the
spine during dreaming, providing the central focus for awareness during dream
experiences. Sleep-state drops form in the peripheral heart center or mid-genital center to
give focus to deep rest experiences. Finally, fourth-state drops form deeper in the heart
center or at the genital tip center, providing the focus for bliss awarenesses during
advanced enlightenment or orgasmic experiences. Understanding the workings of the
drops enables practitioners to focus awareness and to intensify experiences and
Figure 6. The subtle body’s wheels and channels
This depicts in general the physiology of the channels of the subtle nervous system.
There is the triple central axis, with five or six or more nexi ranged along it. From these
nexi energy fibers expand out all over the body, numbered as 72,000 (not depicted here).
Thus the self-image cultivated by the practitioner during subtle yogas is that of a
sensitive, gyroscopelike structure, within which energy and awareness circulate in a
dynamic way.
Figure 7. The subtle mind’s intuitions, experiences, and instincts
The subtle mind is the subjectivity that corresponds to the subtle body patterns of
channels, winds, and drops. The above figure summarizes its analysis into three main
states, associated with eighty instinctual patterns or “natures.” These states occur when
specific subtle physical events happen in the subtle body.
The Tibetan view is that everyone has such a subtle mind, and everyone traverses
these experiences. But it takes a special training to develop awareness of them, to
experience them lucidly.
Finally, there is the extremely subtle body-mind, where the body-mind duality itself is
abandoned. This is the indestructible drop, called “the energy-mind indivisible of clear
light transparency.” Very hard to describe or understand, and not to be misconstrued as a
rigid, fixed identity, this subtlest, most essential state of an individual being is beyond
body-mind duality; it consists of the finest, most sensitive, alive, and intelligent energy
in the universe. It is a being’s deepest state of pure soul, where the being is intelligent
light, alive and singular, continuous yet changing, aware of its infinite interconnection
with everything. It is beyond all instinct patterns of lust, aggression, or delusion, beyond
all duality, one with reality, and one with the Truth Body of all Buddhas. It is what is
referred to by “Buddha nature,” and its actualization in experience is the goal of the Book
of Natural Liberation. It is the key to the special method of relaxing into one’s deepest
natural state that is taught at the highest level in the Nyingma Order of Tibetan
Buddhism as the “Great Perfection” (see glossary and chapter 8). Each living being is
really just this indestructible drop at the extremely subtle level. This is the living soul of
every being. It is what makes the boundless process of reincarnation possible. It is the
gateway into liberation, always open, essentially free, though the being evolved around it
may identify itself with intensely turbulent states of suffering. It is peaceful, translucent,
trouble-free, and uncreated. Knowing it is what made the Buddha smile. It is what makes
Buddhas and living beings the same.
This extremely subtle indestructible drop is very similar to the Hindu notion of the
Self (atman) or Supreme Self (paramatman), which is reached as the absolute negation of
all petty, individual, personality selves. The Buddha was never dogmatic about formulae,
even about his most powerful formula known as “selflessness.” He emphasized
selflessness when talking with absolutists, and he emphasized self when talking with
nihilists. So it is not a question of early Buddhism having no self, and Tantric and
Tibetan Buddhism later returning to a self. Buddha always taught a soul as what
reincarnates, as a selfless continuum of relative, changing, causally engaged awareness. To
get down to lucid experience of the extremely subtle indestructible drop of soul requires
the full realization of voidness or selflessness. It is, in the words of the author
M aitreyanatha, a Supreme Self of Selflessness. However, the point here is not the
philosophical niceties of the extremely subtle, but the clear exposition of these schemes,
themselves important tools for the yoga of dying creatively.
Now that the three levels of body and mind have been outlined, we can turn to the
scheme encoding the stages of the death process. This is central in the Book of Natural
Liberation, since the deceased is presumed to be traversing these stages as we are
reaching out to him or her. This scheme is called the eight stages of the dissolution
process. Tibetan explorers have reported that a dying person goes through the following
stages and tends to have the following experiences. Each dissolution expresses a certain
sequence of subjective experiences.
This model of the death process has been found by generations of yogis and yoginis—
male and female practitioners of Buddhist yoga, the linking of one’s life energies to one’s
knowledge and understanding—to be extremely useful in developing understanding and
control of the death transition. The first four stages are further elaborated by a scheme
known as the “twenty-five gross elements,” in which they are associated with the five
aggregates and with the basic wisdoms or enlightenment energies corresponding to each
Combining the first four of the eight dissolutions with these twenty-five gross
elements, we get a more complete description of the death process. When earth dissolves
into water, one feels sinkingly weak and melting, the material aggregate dissolves as the
body seems to shrivel, the mirror-wisdom (which is the transmuted energy of delusion)
dissolves as forms become indistinct, the eye sense deteriorates and sights are blurred;
everything seems like a mirage of water down a highway. When water dissolves into fire
and bodily fluids seem to dry out, sensations cease as one becomes numb, equalizing
wisdom (which is the energy of attachment) dissipates as sensations disappear, the ear
sense goes and one can no longer hear; one feels surrounded in smoke. When fire
dissolves into wind and one feels cold, individuating wisdom (the energy of desire) fades
as notions dim out from one’s mind, inhalation weakens and the nose cannot smell
anything; one feels surrounded by a swarm of fireflies or a burst of sparks. When wind
dissolves into space or consciousness and breathing stops and energy circulations
withdraw into the central nervous system, volitional functions disappear along with
wonder-working wisdom (the energy of competitiveness), the tongue thickens and tastes
are forgotten, the body sense fades and textures are lost; one feels enveloped in a candle
flame in its last moment.
Figure 8. The stages of death: dissolutions and experiences
From this time, one might be pronounced clinically dead. The gross physical elements
have all gone, and there is no movement in brain or circulatory system. But gross
consciousness, with its mind sense and its eighty instinct-patterns that agitate the three
realms of the subtle mind, dissolves only at the fifth stage. The winds that drive the
eighty patterns dissolve into the central channel, and the white awareness-drop (or male
essence, the white “spirit of enlightenment”) from the brain descends down the central
channel toward the heart complex; one inwardly perceives within the mind-space a vast
sky full of white moonlight. Next, the red awareness-drop (or female essence, the red
“spirit of enlightenment”) rises from the genital wheel toward the heart complex; one
perceives a sky full of orange sunlight. In the seventh dissolution, the stage of
imminence, the two drops meet at the heart and enclose the consciousness; one perceives
the sky full of bright dark-light, or pure darkness, and then one loses consciousness.
Finally, one passes into the realm of clear light translucency, gaining an unaccustomed
kind of nondualistic consciousness.
Figure 9. The aggregates and wisdoms corresponding to the early stages of
At this point a key structure of ordinary life, what is known as the sixfold knot at the
heart complex, unravels. The right and left channels have tightly enclosed the heart
complex center from the moment of our conception in this life, and subsequent
development of the central nervous system occurs around this sixfold heart-knot. When
it unravels totally, our extremely subtle consciousness flies out of its location, driven by
our evolutionary orientation. This is the real moment of death; this is the death-point
between. It is the subtlest state possible for a being. Anything said about it does not do
it justice. Extremely subtle clear-light consciousness is beyond dualities of finity and
infinity, time and eternity, subject and object, self and other, consciousness and
unconsciousness, even ignorance and enlightenment. It is a state so transparent that one
unprepared for it will see right through it and not even notice it. One will experience the
loss of consciousness in the latter part of the imminence state, and the return to the
consciousness of darkness when reversing back up through the imminence state toward
reembodiment, without any sense of having been in any other state, or feeling disoriented
and uncertain, as we sometimes are when we awaken too suddenly. The whole science
and art of navigating the between-state bears down on this moment, assisting a person to
use the transition between habitual lives to enter this extremely subtle awareness that is
naturally at one with blissful freedom, total intelligence, boundless sensitivity—that is,
perfect enlightenment.
M any persons spend a number of days in this juncture, but often in a state of
complete unconsciousness. Confusion about what has happened to them, residual
unconsciousness from the stage of imminence, and terror at being cut loose in the
universe prevent them from recognizing their deepest home in this clear light
translucency, their spiritual oneness with the most loving, powerful, and secure beings in
the universe. This is the time when the Book of Natural Liberation traditions are of
greatest impact. Ideally, the deceased will have learned and practiced them before dying.
Otherwise they can be taught at the time of death, though it is unlikely that the totally
untrained person can overcome the egocentric instinctual drives and the fear and terror
during this high energy crisis and achieve total liberation. Especially because of the
difficulty of unraveling the sixfold heart complex knot, it must have been gradually
worked on and loosened up during a person’s life for its sudden loosening in the death
process not to cause an overwhelmingly distracting trauma at this point.
M ost people traverse these dissolutions without recognizing what is happening to
them, not being able to rest in the clear light, not realizing their essential freedom,
happiness, and natural and joyous boundless participation in the lives of all beings. They
will mentally shoot through the void’s clear light and rise back up into gross embodiment
through the eight dissolutions in the reverse order. They will faint again at imminence,
then rise through dark-light, radiance sunlight, and luminance moonlight into instinctually
dominated consciousness, then reassociate themselves with wind, fire, water, and earth,
structured by the imagery they retrieve from the evolutionary patterns encoded by their
own actions in their spiritual genes (the genes the individual brings from former lives).
These structures will remain fluid in their dreamlike existence in mental bodies in the
between-state, only becoming solidified at the grossest physical level when they take
rebirth in a lotus or womb or egg or moist cavity. During the between-state time, due to
its fluidity and the subtlety of their energy embodiment, their consciousness is magical in
power and extremely intelligent, so they can make excellent use of the Book of Natural
Liberation if it is read or mentally transmitted to them. Here, in the process of
safeguarding the quest of a rebirth—defending beings against falling into really
destructive states of existence, and guiding them into advantageous life situations—the
Great Book of Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between serves the
magnificent purpose its author intended.
During the between-state, the consciousness is embodied in a ghostlike between-body,
made of subtle energies structured by the imagery in the mind, similar to the subtle
embodiment we experience in dreams. Though subtle, it is an embodiment of
consciousness; it arises through the stages of dissolution in reverse, and when the
individual leaves it to enter a gross body at conception in a womb, she dissolves out of it
in a kind of minideath process. The eight dissolution processes are followed downward
from the between-state embodiment into the clear light consciousness and again upward
in reverse from clear light to the new embodiment. Indeed, even when a being falls asleep,
wakes up in a dream, dissolves out of a dream, and wakes up in the gross body again,
these dissolution stages can be discerned, usually compressed into a rapid succession of
unnoticed instantaneous phases. The meditative practices associated with between-state
training are crucial for sharpening attention so you can become aware of the process,
slow down the transitions, and remain lucidly aware of the changes as they occur. It is
vital to master and hold in mind these schemes, developed over the centuries in the
Tibetan science of death.
The science of death is the foundation of the art of dying, just as the science of medicine
is the foundation of the art of healing. To use this Book of Natural Liberation to best
advantage, we must understand clearly the opportunity afforded by a conscious
approach to the death process. What does “liberation” mean in the phrase “natural
liberation”? What does it mean to say that the basic and ultimate reality of all things is
emptiness, or freedom? What does the Book of Natural Liberation mean when it
promises “natural liberation” (Tibetan, rang grol), mentioning attributes such as
“perfection,” “natural bliss,” “no more rebirth,” and “cessation of suffering”? Is
Buddhism after all an escapist system? Is the Book of Natural Liberation a prescription
for escape?
It can seem so sometimes. There is more than one idea about liberation and freedom
within Buddhism. In the Buddha’s original teaching of the Four Noble Truths, the third
Noble Truth is that of nirodha, which literally means “cessation,” meaning cessation of
suffering. Nirvana, the name for the final reality realized by an enlightened being, literally
means “extinguished,” “blown out,” or “gone out.” The spiritual climate in Buddha’s
time was derived from numerous movements of ascetic intellectuals, who were sick of
the fettered, unenlightened life, who saw it as unendingly miserable, and who sought
annihilation of mind as well as body through intense, transcending samadhi. To help
them, the Buddha presented the nirvana he had found in a slightly dualistic light, as if it
were the final extinction they so fervently desired. He was already a Buddha, and as a
Buddha was undivided from nirvana while walking and teaching all over India, still being
present in some sense while transcendent in some sense. Yet, he called his eventual death
parinirvana, or “final nirvana,” to keep up the allure of a goal beyond all life for the
strongly individualistic, dualistic seekers of freedom conceived as obliteration.
In fact, the person addicted to egocentrism, who is habitually oriented toward an
isolated center of being that seems to be the real him or her, who feels aloof when up and
alienated when down, who feels intuitively the correctness of “I think therefore I am!”—
that is to say most of us—does have a secret craving for oblivion. Oblivion after all is
only the full entry into a withdrawn reality of total separation from hassles. To be sure,
we expect no fun there, we may miss the few people we really care about, we may
forego our few real pleasures, but at least we feel sure of no severe pain or agony. There
is no unlimited horizon of danger and vulnerability. Some moderns, who most vigorously
reject the suggestion that they might be emotional annihilationists, closet cosmic
escapists, and who most bravely assert their existential commitment to unrelenting
involvement, may dare to do so only because they basically feel secure that oblivion
awaits them no matter what. Indeed, they might think they were terrified of that
oblivion, thereby proving to themselves that the possibility of hell was not the issue.
Among humanity as a whole, vast numbers of lemminglike people seek cessation through
suicidal wars, through becoming heroin addicts, through persisting in cigarette and
alcohol addiction. There is no question that annihilationism flourishes abundantly in our
Therefore, allowing nirvana to appear as if it were the supreme of blissful oblivions is
not a useless teaching tactic. It is adroit and beneficial. Especially since it turns out that
the seeker who embraces nothingness, who blasts off into the samadhi of the void, finds
that what ceases is not all life, but is his or her ignorance, misknowledge, egocentric
addiction, the subjective and objective self-addictions. Fortunately, liberation—the
cessation of self-addiction—results in a powerful and durable happiness, a vibrant and
sustaining bliss. That special overflowing of joy makes the small worldly joys
previously knowable in the tight trap of self-addiction seem paltry and pathetic. And the
final bonus is that this relatively ultimate bliss, this supreme beatitude of the happiness
of real freedom, naturally realizes that the lack of isolated, fixed, and independent self is
just equivalent to the presence of all totally interrelated things and beings, inconceivably
intertwining endlessly throughout unmeasurable eternity and unencompassable infinity.
Free from all craving for nothings and oblivions, there is a personal destiny of endless
involvement with limitless others. All this spurs you to share your happiness and to
release the flow of your love, without the slightest diminution of your ultimate nirvana
of indivisible bliss and freedom.
Although this kind of freedom spontaneously invested in total involvement, individual
bliss indivisible from loving union with all others, is inconceivable in its real meaning
within dualistic conceptual terms, it is clear enough what is being claimed. Cessation,
extinction, termination of, and freedom from self-addiction are a most plausible doorway
to real happiness, true love, and boundless bliss. Once this is clear, it becomes easier to
understand what the author means by liberation. If we are not clear about this, there is
some risk of misunderstanding the Great Perfection language as simply urging us to sink
into a liberation of the kind of automatic oblivion seemingly awaiting every materialist,
with absolutely no need for any sort of scientific foundation or transformational
In order to clarify this essential focus of these teachings, I have translated a short
philosophical text that belongs to the Natural Liberation literature, the Natural
Liberation Through Naked Vision, Identifying Intelligence (see chapter 8). In the passage
below from that text (see this page–this page), Padma Sambhava has just been
mentioning that the reality of freedom, nirvana, Truth, and so forth—This Itself—Is the
highest goal intended in every sort of Buddhist teaching.
To introduce the three-point entrance to this itself—
Realize past mind as trackless, clear, and void,
Future mind as unproduced and new,
And present awareness as staying natural, uncontrived.
Thus knowing time in its very ordinary way.
When you nakedly regard yourself,
Your looking is transparent, nothing to be seen.
This is naked, immediate, clear intelligence,
It is clear voidness with nothing established,
Purity of clarity-voidness nonduality;
Not permanent, free of any intrinsic status,
Not annihilated, bright and distinct,
Not a unity, multidiscerning clarity,
Without plurality, indivisible, one in taste,
Not derivative, self-aware, it is this very reality.
This introduces the ultimate reality of nirvana, the Great Perfection, the Truth realm,
the final freedom, the evolutionary perfection of Buddhahood. This realization is the aim
of all the teachings of the Book of Natural Liberation. It is accessible in principle because
it is already the deepest reality of the present, the actual condition of even the most
ordinary. You must look “nakedly” at yourself, reversing the aim of seeing back upon
itself. You look for that fixed, independent, isolated self that feels like the kernel within
you, out of which your drives and thoughts emerge. But when you turn 180 degrees to
look within the looking, you find nothing that has intrinsic status, nothing standing
independent in its own right.
Even Descartes found that too: he found that he could find nothing at the point of
origin of thought. He erroneously asserted that it was because a subject could not be an
object. And he then went wild and said that this subject, this one thing he could not find,
demonstrate, establish in any way, was the one thing he could be foundationally certain
of. He could doubt everything, but he could not doubt that he doubted! So: I think,
therefore I am. Only the laziest Buddhist philosopher would make such a statement.
Not making his mistake, we look nakedly and see nothing established there as a fixed
thing in itself. Remember, this is in our seeing itself. We cannot even see anything
substantial behind the seeing of nothing. We turn again and again, whirling around
pointing to the point of origin of the pointing. Our looking becomes transparent to itself.
Nothing is to be seen as independent or objective. And this transparency spreads
infinitely. Descartes was right, in one way: the subjective cannot be found. But, subject
gone, how can objects remain substantial? A subjectivity that cannot find itself cannot
indulge in finding objects out of a sense of certainty in itself. Subjectivity and objectivity
both dissolve under penetrating observation of this kind, and all that remains is free, clear
transparency. This transparency itself is naked, pure intelligence. It is clarity, immediacy,
nonduality, and voidness of all intrinsic status including any intrinsic status of voidness
itself. This bright and clear intelligent awareness is not annihilated, it is not obliviously
sunk in union, and it is not rigidly, fixedly dependent, not stuck in a plurality of
interrelated yet intrinsically independent entities. Experientially, we enjoy the one taste
of freedom without getting lost in isolation. This is the Diamond Reality of Clear Light,
this is the real nature of each of us that makes natural liberation possible. Our true
nature, our Buddha essence, is not something that needs laboriously to be created—it is
already overwhelmingly present as our very soul.
This soul, furthermore, is not established intrinsically in itself, as a realm of voidness
wherein all contents have disappeared. It is rather a realm of voidness wherein all beings
and things are transparently present, none independently established in itself, but each
present relatively in the inconceivable network of beauty and bliss that is the void. Thus,
our Buddha Truth Body of our freedom-wisdom is simultaneously our Buddha Beatitude
Body of bliss, and our Buddha Emanation Body of love, that reaches out to help other
beings rediscover their own free, luminous, blissful, loving natures. As the Natural
Liberation Through Naked Vision says (this page):
This objective identification of the actuality of things
Contains complete in one the indivisible Three Bodies.
The Truth Body, the voidness free of intrinsic status,
The Beatific Body, bright with freedom’s natural energy,
The Emanation Body ceaselessly arising everywhere—
Its reality is these three complete in one.
I trust it is clear by now that nirvana, the freedom intended by the Book of Natural
Liberation, is not oblivion. The Truth Body is not some absolute aloof transcendence far
beyond us. It is the infinite radiance of blissful wisdom energy, beauty enjoying itself
unboundedly. And it is simultaneously beauty overflowing in itself as love and goodness,
enfolding all beings, who pathetically feel themselves apart and alienated in self-addictive
isolation. Beings like us.
The Book of Natural Liberation itself is the words of Padma Sambhava, the lotus-born
master, who himself is believed to be the Buddha Truth-Beatific-Emanation Bodies
reaching out to us. He does not just sail above us in poetic evocation of his own bliss, he
reaches into our present situation tirelessly, seeking to find us where we are, giving us a
practical access to our freedom. He challenges our habitual self-alienation from our own
reality, as in another passage (this page–this page) from the Natural Liberation Through
Naked Vision:
To introduce the forceful method to enter this very reality,
Your own awareness right now is just this!
It being just this uncontrived natural clarity,
Why do you say, “I don’t understand the nature of the mind”?
As here there is nothing to meditate upon,
In just this uninterrupted clarity intelligence,
Why do you say, “I don’t see the actuality of the mind”?
Since the thinker in the mind is just it,
Why do you say, “Even searching I can’t find it”?
Since here there is nothing to be done,
Why do you say, “Whatever I do, it doesn’t succeed”?
As it is sufficient to stay put uncontrived,
Why do you say, “I can’t stay still”?
As it is all right to be content with inaction,
Why do you say, “I am not able to do it”?
Since clear, aware, and void are automatically indivisible,
Why do you say, “Practice is not effective”?
Since it is natural, spontaneous, free of cause and condition,
Why do you say, “Seeking, it cannot be found”?
Since thought and natural liberation are simultaneous,
Why do you say, “Remedies are impotent”?
Since your very intelligence is just this,
Why do you say, “I do not know this”?
These words, each expression simple enough in itself, enable freedom to interlock with
our ordinary worries. Like the between-guides in the Book of Natural Liberation, they
make each gap in our addictive self-obsession a potential doorway into selfless freedom.
They proceed by challenging our self-indulgence in self-pitying, artificial remoteness
from our salvation. They offer forceful reassurance to lift us up from self-loathing and
the fear and trembling it promotes. They cannot harm us—unless we misunderstand
them as reinforcing the spiritual nihilism so perniciously ingrained within our culture,
which misunderstanding we have taken pains to guard against above, by carefully
distinguishing between voidness and nothingness, freedom and oblivion.
On this secure foundation, let us move on to the Tibetan art of creative dying.
It is important to understand the inner scientific dimension of the Book of Natural
Liberation Through Understanding in the Between, in order to approach it practically
and use it effectively. The original is useful to Tibetans in two main ways. First, it is
considered a scientific handbook on the realities and experiences of death. It provides
guidance on what the death process is, how their present actions can affect it, and how
they can manage it as it happens. This guidance also helps them understand, prepare for,
and manage the deaths of those dear to them. Second, it is considered a guidebook for
spiritual practice on two levels: It helps the yogi and yogini develop the abilities they
need to traverse the death crisis with skill and confidence; and it gives those who feel
unable to prepare fully for death, and are not confident of their abilities, a religious sense
of how to seek help from enlightened divine and angelic beings. No intelligent tourist
would depart for a foreign land without a good guidebook giving instructions on basic
preparations, necessary equipment, dangers, and obstacles. No intelligent Tibetan would
depart the known territory of this life without a good guidebook for the between.
In the previous section, I have described the Tibetan analysis of the realities of the
death process. In the following, I introduce the preparations for death, how to develop
the ethical momentum, contemplative skills, and realistic insight required to traverse the
between successfully. Staying mainly within the framework of the Book of Natural
Liberation, I occasionally introduce clarifying ideas from other Tibetan teachings.
Hey! Now when the life between dawns upon me,
I will abandon laziness, as life has no more time,
Unwavering, enter the path of learning, thinking, and
And taking perceptions and mind as path,
I will realize the Three Bodies of enlightenment!
This once that I have obtained the human body
Is not the time to stay on the path of distractions.
(The Root Verses of the Six Betweens, this page)
The art of dying begins with preparations for death. As for any journey, there are
innumerable preparations one can make. The Book of Natural Liberation suggests at least
five main types of preparation while still living: informational, imaginational, ethical,
meditational, and intellectual.
The primary preparation is the development of a clear picture of what to expect. This
we can do by studying the inner scientific descriptions of death, mastering the main
patterns, and practicing their remembrance until we are ready for the crisis at any time.
The second kind of preparation, which the Book of Natural Liberation joins the
broader Buddhist tradition in encouraging, is the development of a positive imagination
of potential future realms. Buddhist texts, due to the relatively nonsuppressive social
milieu of Buddhist countries, especially India, are rich in visionary descriptions of
heavens, celestial realms, hidden paradises, and so forth. These descriptions certainly
exist in all religious traditions, but mainly in the esoteric province of the mystics of those
traditions. The authoritarian, militaristic, and production-oriented societies of the West
and the Far East tended to suppress the individual imagination of heavenly realms of
pleasure, persecuting visionaries who experienced celestial beauty. Only in recent times,
as modernization has brought greater wealth and a corresponding relaxation of social
control to parts of the West and Far East, has the tight control of the popular
imagination been lifted, and secular and sacred arts that open the imagination to bliss
have become more widespread.
An important preparation for death should be the reading of the Buddhist sutras and
treatises that describe the heavenly Buddha-lands, such as the Buddha Amitabha’s
Sukhavati, the Pure Land of Bliss. A Buddha-land refers to the environment of a Buddha,
signifying that the evolutionary transmutation of the finite individual into an infinite
body of awareness takes the environment with it, so that self and other are
indistinguishable. You must have tried to imagine in detail one of the celestial realms
described in the sutras for it to mean something to you when, in the Book of Natural
Liberation, a particular Buddha is said to emerge from a particular direction to invite you
into his Buddha-paradise. The Buddha-land descriptions are incredibly lush and
imaginatively stimulating. They open up for us the possibility of unearthly beauty and
happiness. The mere reading about and imagining of these realms will open the
imagination to be prepared for magnificence that might otherwise be frightening in its
Those with strong roots in other religious traditions should read up on the visions of
their own mystics, to ready themselves for the extraordinarily beautiful pearly gates of
heaven. And the secularists should look into the literature on life after death, especially
reflecting on the accounts of those who actually report near-death or postdeath
experiences. The science-fiction literature contains rich descriptions of worlds of
exquisite beauty, among the more dramatic realms of danger and adventure.
A third type of preparation is ethical. It involves selective management of your living
habits in the light of impending death. This need not be a morbid shivering in the corner.
It can make you enjoy life more, live it more intensely, bring happiness to those about
you. When you die, you will lose not only all your property and relationships, you will
lose even your own body. So right now, why not practice a little bit by becoming a bit
more detached about all the things you tend to get obsessed about?
The three main ethical practices are to build up generosity, sensitivity to others, and
tolerance. They are all-important preparations for death. They are not directly
mentioned in the Book of Natural Liberation, because their necessity is taken for granted
in Buddhist societies. Western religions teach the same virtues. And secularists can
recognize them as common sense, improving the quality of life as well as preparing for
confrontation with the ultimate.
Practice giving things away, not just things you don’t care about, but things you do
like. Remember, it is not the size of a gift, it is its quality and the amount of mental
attachment you overcome that count. So don’t bankrupt yourself on a momentary
positive impulse, only to regret it later. Give thought to giving. Give small things,
carefully, and observe the mental processes going along with the act of releasing the little
thing you liked.
Practice being more relaxed in your relationships. Remind yourself that you could be
dead and not there, and that your main concern for your loved one is their happiness, not
just what you are getting out of them. Observe feelings of jealousy that arise for no good
reason all the time, and realize how imprisoning they are, how uncomfortable you feel
and how oppressed your loved one feels. Concentrate on actions that make your friends
and loved ones happy, really happy, not just superficially entertained. Think about
others before yourself. Realize each relationship is temporary, so put as much good
energy into it as possible while it is there.
Practice being more relaxed about your body. Don’t fuss so much about it, wasting
time and money on things and treatments you don’t really need. Remember you tend to
be most beautiful and dashing when you forget about how you are looking. When you
look at yourself in the mirror, remember that you might be dead and your skin turn blue,
your lips shrivel, your flesh sag and decompose. Don’t dwell on this morbidly, but
breathe a sigh of relief that you are alive and well right now. Worry less about minor
blemishes. Take care of your body, but don’t be obsessive about it: be sensible but not
fanatic. And develop a greater tolerance of difficulties. Don’t mind so much if someone
hurts you in an accident. Don’t be angry with a mosquito if it bites you. It does it by
nature. Defend yourself from injury, but don’t get carried away. You can practice using
pain and hardship to build your tolerance and patience, the better to be able to face
greater hardships; but build up bit by bit, as self-mortification tends to backfire, resulting
in ever greater self-obsession.
The fourth kind of preparation you can make is meditational. While it is good to have
a knowledgeable teacher, it is not necessary to go out and join a group, convert to another
religion, give up your normal pursuits and life-style, and so on. In fact, in any campaign
of self-discipline, extreme measures are likely to be short-lived and not to achieve their
goals. Previous translations of the Book of Natural Liberation do not give any real way
to meditate. The sections translated are those designed to be used right at the moment of
death and for some time after. The meditational preparations should be made from the
time one first decides it makes sense to do them. Again, the Book of Natural Liberation
presupposes that most members of Tibetan society will have some kind of meditation
practice, so it does not spell the basic ones out in much detail.
The first type of meditation you can begin with is the calming meditation, called onepointedness. You learn to sit comfortably in a balanced position—the cross-legged
position is actually quite easy and healthful, but any balanced position will do. You
practice in short sessions, five or ten minutes at a time, starting with observing your
breaths, counting them, relaxing and calming, letting your thoughts go their own way
without dragging you with them. Always stop the sessions while you are enjoying them
—never prolong them until you are tired. The idea is to condition yourself to enjoy them
and to want to go back to them. Once you have come to enjoy this practice, you can
choose a meditation object. If you are a Buddhist, a small image of Shakyamuni Buddha
is recommended. If you are a Christian, an icon of Christ. If you are a M oslem, a sacred
letter. If you are a secularist, a M ona Lisa, a flower, or a satellite picture of the planet.
You then devote short sessions to keeping your attention on that object without
distraction. You learn to disidentify from thoughts and emotions, let them take off here
and there in the mind field, while you bring your attention back to your object. At first,
you feel discouraged at your great distractedness. But you relax about it, try to keep
focused an instant longer, bring attention back to the object an instant sooner, and so
forth. Bit by bit is the watchword. The main point is to improve your ability to monitor
your mind, to use it effectively to concentrate on something, and to develop more
control of emotions and reactions. Along the way, it is a proven way to lessen stress on
your system, improve your health, improve your ability to get things done, and so forth.
If you get involved in this practice, there are more elaborate instructions in a number of
recent books.
Doing calming meditation is like developing a tool. It does not necessarily lead to
higher realization. The next important type of meditation, crucial for one’s preparation,
is insight meditation. Insight meditations use the calmed and focused mind to better
understand reality, the environment, and the self. They begin from developing
mindfulness or alertness by observing oneself without reacting. This practice is like
calming, except that the object is your whole mind-body process. You scan over it
slowly, observing all that is going on, without reacting to anything. After the initial phase
of heightening familiarity with your various processes, you use a scheme like that of the
five aggregates listed above. Using such a mental map of your being, you look
everywhere for your real self. You soon discover there is no fixed identity within
yourself, no independent point of subjectivity. This discovery becomes the insight into
selflessness, the doorway to liberation. This meditation becomes extremely complex and
there are extensive teachings on it. The point here is to develop a greater mindfulness of
one’s whole system and how it works; this can be very helpful in developing the ability
to be aware at all times. It might lead to attaining lucid dreaming, for example, which is a
very important preparation for the attempt to become lucid in the between. Importantly,
insight meditations increase the ability to cease identifying with cognitions, thoughts,
and emotions, realizing that what seems like an absolute “I” is only a temporary
construct. Whatever degree of this ability you develop will become extremely important
at the death point. The many promptings of the Book of Natural Liberation not to fear
this or that, not to be carried away by this or that perception, and so on, are all calling
for some aspect of the ability to disidentify, some flexibility of the habitual sense of self.
The third type of meditation one can practice is therapeutic, intended to condition
your mind to a positive orientation. For example, there are meditations on love, wherein
you reflect on your connectedness to other beings, how kind they have been and are to
you, how much you benefit from relating to them, how beautiful they are, and so forth.
You decondition your aversions and reinforce your enchantments. In this way you can
intensify your loving attitude toward others. Then there are meditations on patience, in
which you decondition your anger habit and reinforce your tolerance. There is the
meditation on detachment, in which death is a major theme, through which you become
freer and freer of obsession with possessions and mundane activities.
Fourth, there are imaginative meditations, visualizations of positive places or events,
which can be most useful in developing openness to the unprecedented situations one
may face at death. These range widely: cultivating an imagined home, a place of safety,
peace, and quiet; developing self-confidence in facing any situation; overcoming
subconscious defeatist attitudes; and achieving the adamantine self and the exalting
environment of the esoteric mandala realm, a perfected environment or Buddhaverse.
Finally, there are meditations that can be used in daily life, to combine a spiritual
orientation with daily activities, utilizing time and effort that is otherwise wasted on this
life only, from the Natural Liberation perspective. The most ordinary occasions can
become opportunities for contemplative practice.
Hey! Now when the dream between dawns upon me,
I will give up corpselike sleeping in delusion,
And mindfully enter unwavering the experience of reality.
Conscious of dreaming, I will enjoy the changes as clear
Not sleeping mindlessly like an animal,
I will cherish the practice merging sleep and realization!
(The Root Verses of the Six Betweens, this page)
This involves using sleep as a time for practice. You can convert the process of falling
asleep into a rehearsal of the death dissolutions, imagining yourself as sinking away from
ordinary waking consciousness down through the eight stages into deep-sleep clear-light
transparency. And you can convert the dream state into a practice of the between-state,
priming yourself to recognize yourself as dreaming when in the dream. This is quite
difficult to do all at once, but not so hard if you can remember to persist, making a little
progress bit by bit. It is very important, for if you can become self-aware in the dream
state by the practice of lucid dreaming, you have a much better chance of recognizing
your situation in the between after death.
Another very simple type of daily life meditation is the common Tibetan practice of
recitation of a mantra. OM M ANI PADM E HUM is the mantra of great compassion.
Literally, “Om—The jewel in the lotus—hum,” for a Tibetan it means that all is well
with the universe, the force of good and love is everywhere and competent to help all
beings out of every difficulty. The mantra thus resonates with the most positive possible
outlook. Tibetans develop the ability constantly to repeat the mantra silently or in a low
voice. They learn about the mantra and about Avalokiteshvara, the Lord of Compassion,
feel close to his positive energy, and practice repeating the syllables in sessions of
meditation. Thus abandoning a level of habitual mental rumination, they use that layer of
the mental bandwidth for the stream of the mantra—omanipaymeyhum. Some of them
can combine it with a visualization in which they see the six jeweled syllables, on a
turning wheel in the heart center, radiate the rainbow light rays of the five wisdoms to
bless all beings throughout the universe. The stream of the mantra then connects with a
constant vision of radiant color streaming forth and back in loving energies. Other
mantras can also be used in the same way. If the mantra is Jewish, Christian, or M oslem,
you can use it to create the same kind of positive stream in your mind. Such a practice
will be especially valuable in the death crisis. By learning to let it flow automatically, it
will easily carry you over rough spots in the dying and between transitions.
Another kind of daily-activity meditation is the conscious association of an ordinary
activity with a spiritual practice. When you wash dishes, associate their cleansing with
clearing away mental addictions, making the washing into a prayer. When you build a
building, associate it with building a pure land mandala. When you observe a person in
the subway, associate the encounter with being there for him or her when you are a
Buddha. When you open a door, associate it with opening the door to enlightenment.
The fifth type of preparation is intellectual. Contrary to some contemporary
misconceptions, Buddhism is not at all anti-intellectual. The intellect is a vehicle of
liberation; it is the source of wisdom, after all, and wisdom is the only faculty that can
enable you to achieve liberation. M editation, love, ethics, none of these alone can bring
about enlightenment without wisdom. Learning should be life-long. No one finishes their
education just in a few years of school. Really, school only teaches you how to learn; it
is only the beginning. Numerous texts enable us to learn about the nature of life, the
nature of liberation, the nature of self, and the nature of the environment. Especially
important are the teachings of emptiness, selflessness, and relativity, as well as those on
the spirit of enlightenment of love and compassion. Reading the sutras in general also has
the virtue of being itself a form of the third type of meditation, therapeutic, as the
extensive descriptions therein of the pure lands, the inconceivable realizations of the
Buddhas and their disciples, all these have an immersion effect on your consciousness. If
you are more interested in another religion or philosophy, study its literature regularly,
looking especially into its descriptions of death and afterlife, other realms, and the
methods of developing the ethical, religious, and intellectual higher self. Secularists can
get great benefit from the sciences, especially those that are critical and opening, and
from the self-development literature of modern psychologies.
Hey! Now when the meditation between dawns upon me,
I will abandon the host of distracting errors,
Focus in extreme-free experience, without releasing or
And achieve stability in the creation and perfection stages!
Giving up business, now one-pointed in meditation,
I won’t surrender to the power of erroneous addictions!
(The Root Verses of the Six Betweens, this page)
Some people will feel so moved by a new consideration of death and the spiritual aim
of life that it raises that they will not be satisfied with the normal preparations just
described, which can be integrated within a conventional lay life, focused on family,
career, and consumption. They will want to change their lives, treat them as “lifebetweens,” and dedicate everything to accelerate their positive evolution. In Buddhist
societies they might become monks or nuns to devote themselves full time to the pursuit
of enlightenment, minimizing their concern for what are called the “purposes of this life,”
family and friends, food, drink, houses, clothes, wealth, fame, power, and other ordinary
pleasures. In modern society, however, there are few facilities or social supports for the
renunciant, so full-time, extraordinary practitioners will have to make special, individual
arrangements in order to devote themselves totally to transformative spiritual
The procedure the Tibetan tradition would have them follow involves four stages:
first, the preliminary stage of exoteric enlightenment teachings; second, the development
of a relationship with a qualified teacher and the obtaining of initiation in the advanced,
esoteric practices necessary to accelerate personal evolution; third, the development of
the visualization ability taught on the creation stage, the stage of cultivating the creative
imagination; and fourth, the mastery of the perfection stage—the stage where the
transformational journeys actually begin—with its yogic disciplines that simulate and
rehearse the death transitions. The Natural Liberation literature only alludes to the first
and second of these four stages, since it assumes that all Tibetans are familiar with them.
In terms of the third stage, it contains an elaborate mandala visualization practice, which
I have translated for the first time (see The Dharma Practice, Natural Liberation of the
Instincts, this page). It does not contain specific instructions for the perfection stage
practices, except as embedded in the between-process instructions themselves and in the
general Great Perfection philosophy (see The Natural Liberation Through Naked Vision,
Identifying the Intelligence, this page). However, numerous other esoteric traditions in
Tibet contain full instructions on all four stages. M ost important of these are the
Unexcelled Yoga Tantras, the traditions of death-transcending, transformative discipline
believed to derive from the Buddha’s esoteric teachings, which were developed and
brought to Tibet by the great adepts of ancient India such as Padma Sambhava, the
practitioners of Tantra who attained Buddhahood in their ordinary bodies and remained
in association with their gross bodies in order to help others attain liberation. Without
going into these in great detail, I provide an overview of their main practices to inform
you of the full inventory of possible preparations for the voyage of the between.
This is the stage of the intensive practice of the usual, exoteric Buddhist teachings,
performed in the context of preparing to embark on the subtle esoteric practice of the
Unexcelled Yoga Tantras, In most of the Tibetan orders, there are arduous preliminaries
to esoteric practice, usually the “four hundred-thousands”; these are a hundred thousand
each of four practices: formal prostrations, repetitions of the hundred-syllable
purification mantra of Vajrasattva (one of the archetypal mild Buddha-deities, the
archetypal male form adopted by the Buddha when he teaches Tantra), ritual offerings of
the entire universe to the enlightened beings, and mentor-yoga contemplations. These are
usually performed before receiving initiation into any practice. In the Geluk Order, a
practitioner can be assigned nine sets of “hundred thousands”: refuges, prostrations,
water offerings, mandala offerings, clay Buddha-image-making, Vajrasattva mantras, vowpurifying mantras, fire offerings, and mentor-yoga contemplations. However, the more
important foundational preliminaries are the practices of the Individual and Universal
Vehicles, the main monastic and messianic Buddhist paths. Tibetan masters have
specially formulated these into the three principal paths to enlightenment: those of
transcendent renunciation, the spirit of enlightenment of love and compassion, and the
transcendent wisdom of selflessness. The first is an emphasis of the Individual Vehicle,
the second an emphasis of the Universal Vehicle, and slightly different forms of the third
are the keys to liberation for both.
Transcendent renunciation is developed by meditating on the preciousness of human
life in terms of the ocean of evolutionary possibilities, the immediacy of death, the
inexorability of evolutionary causality, and the sufferings of the ignorance-driven,
involuntary life cycle. Renunciation automatically occurs when you come face-to-face
with your real existential situation, and so develop a genuine sympathy for yourself,
having given up pretending the prison of habitual emotions and confusions is just fine.
M editating on the teachings given on these themes in a systematic way enables you to
generate quickly an ambition to gain full control of your body and mind in order at least
to face death confidently, knowing you can navigate safely through the dangers of further
journeys. Wasting time investing your life in purposes that “you cannot take with you”
becomes ludicrous, and, when you radically shift your priorities, you feel a profound
relief at unburdening yourself of a weight of worry over inconsequential things.
The spirit of enlightenment of love and compassion is the energetic and cheerful aura
you create for yourself by shifting the orientation of your life away from selfpreoccupation to preoccupation with becoming an enlightened being in order to bring
happiness to all others. It is developed on the basis of your astonishing relief and
happiness at the initial experiential taste of real liberation from all troubles, gained from
the first realization of transcendent renunciation. At the beginning, you systematically
meditate upon your connectedness with all sentient beings, generating a deep feeling of
intimate familiarity with all of them equally by going back into your infant memories of
tender cuddling affection and diffusing that toward all beings, while reflecting on your
mutual evolutionary beginningless and personal interconnection. Once you feel close to
all beings in such a visionary network of blood and milk connections, you realize how
they constantly suffer, life after life; you remember the relief you now feel at the
prospect of liberation; and you generate a powerful ambition to liberate them as well. At
the conclusion of this meditative process, you lock in this ambition with the heroic vow
to serve all beings. You turn your aspiration to help the world into a solid determination.
At that time, you will have generated the spirit of enlightenment of universal love and
compassion: you become a bodhisattva, a messianic hero or heroine. The spirit of
enlightenment is all a matter of orientation and determination.
The wisdom that is essential for your actual liberation systematically develops
through the meditation of the twofold selflessness. The two kinds of selflessness are
subjective selflessness and objective selflessness. You begin by cultivating awareness of
subjective selflessness, observing your habitual sense of having a solid self-center, a
fixed, definite, unchanging identity that is you. You take some care in noticing how
absolute and undeniable this self seems, how your drives and impulses and thoughts
seem to come from it, how unquestionable it seems. When you really become aware how
deeply you feel such a center, you begin a process of digging deeper to find it, to put
your finger on it, to really know it, to know who and what you really are. There are
many subtle systems of investigation that have been developed to help you with this
difficult task. You learn them and you meditate with them. You analyze your inner
constituents of body and mind, sensations, emotional and conceptual mechanisms, and
the complex of consciousness itself. You need to develop heightened powers of
concentration systematically, to stay with this analysis as it goes deeper and deeper.
Through your studies, you can have the help of millions of previous investigators, who
have left clues and methods from their quests over centuries. You don’t have to be a
philosopher; you just have to want to know who you are.
Eventually, the investigation leads you to realize that you are going to fail to find that
hard-core identity of the self. You realize that it does not exist at your center in the way
that it seems to. You have moments of feeling that you perhaps don’t exist at all, but
you realize that that sense of nonexistence is also not itself a hard-core identity. As you
go along, you must rely on the help of the wisdom literature to deal with this failure to
be able to pin down any intrinsically identifiable mode of either existence or
nonexistence. You must also take your time, and persevere without expecting spectacular
breakthroughs and feeling discouraged if none occur. Gradually, your sense of
absoluteness begins to erode, while your sense of just being there relatively becomes
more and more liberated. You realize that identity is a construct, a relative fabrication,
and you begin to understand objective selflessness. You look out at others and at the
objects of the world, realizing that they too are mere relativistic entities, with no hardcore identities either. Finally, you realize that this interdependent network of
nonabsolute, relative beings and things is fluid and malleable, open for creative
development. If it’s all a mutual construct, let’s make it more beautiful. Everything is
open for transformation. Once things are not fixed by rigid core structures that constitute
their identities, their openness to transformation implies some danger that they can
degenerate into negative configurations, causing suffering to living beings. But that danger
is more than offset by the possibility that everything can be transformed toward
limitlessly positive configurations, realms of joy and fulfillment for living beings.
This meditation can go as deep as full enlightenment itself. But at this preliminary
stage of the path, preparing for the special context of the tantric art of traversing the
betweens, you need to use inference and experience to reach the certainty that any sense
of absolute anything is only relative, and that anything you can sense at all is only
relative. This is to realize the equivalence of voidness and relativity, no longer looking for
an absolute void beyond the world, no longer depreciating the relative world as lacking
ultimate value. You integrate this certainty into your daily experience by a twofold
process. You let experience affirm absolute voidness, knowing that anything you can
experience is relative and void of intrinsic identity. And you let absolute voidness affirm
your relative experience, since knowing a thing’s voidness makes its relative presence
undeniably important. From there on it is a matter of deepening this realization by
pushing it inward, to overlay your instinctual misknowledge that still habitually gives
you a feeling of an enduring hard-core identity. The more you can bear down through
focused concentration on this specific identity feeling, the more free you will become.
This is where meditation is really needed: after you have a sound realization. This is
where you realize how deep your instincts go. This is where you begin to desire a higher
technology of deepening your realization and expanding your liberation. You decide you
cannot bear to delay liberation for many lives. You want to complete the process in this
one lifetime. You become determined to seek initiation in the Unexcelled Yoga Tantra, to
recognize your life as the life between, to learn the art of reenvisioning your entire self
and world on the creation stage, and to learn the interior voyages of the trained
psychonaut on the perfection stage. It is not that you seek a different teaching to
provide a shortcut previously unavailable, for the wisdom aspect of these paths does not
vary; whether viewed from an exoteric or an esoteric perspective, voidness is the same.
But the method is different; the technique is accelerated, the art is more developed. You
seek a way of accelerating your evolution, compressing the development achieved
through many conscious deaths and many lives of practice into one life, death, and
between, if possible; or at most a few.
The esoteric subtle practices of the Tantra are thus approached on the basis of an
already clear but incomplete understanding, as a method of compressing eons of lives
into one life, eons of deaths into one death, and eons of betweens into one between.
While it is possible to practice the three principles of the ordinary path from a book, it is
considered much more efficient to have a spiritual teacher, or mentor, to apply the
various themes and techniques specifically to you. The teaching of selflessness is made
especially easier when learned from a teacher who herself or himself already understands
selflessness. M any people will already have a spiritual teacher by the time they get
serious about seeking initiation and entering the advanced stages of practice. However,
sometimes you will select a different mentor for tantric initiation. It is quite common to
have several spiritual teachers. To practice the transformational teachings of Unexcelled
Yoga Tantra, the personal relationship with a spiritual mentor is foundational.
A large literature discusses the choice of a mentor. It is no simple matter. You should
have a good intuitive feeling about a teacher, of course, but you also should examine the
teacher’s life-style, her words of teaching, the quality of her other disciples. You can find
fault with anyone. It is asking too much to ask for what looks like perfection right away
to your habitual critical gaze. But you should use common sense as well. A spiritual
teacher who does not seem clear on teachings, whose opinions often contradict the
traditional texts, who does not practice what he preaches—who uses disciples for his
own wealth or fame, who indulges himself with little self-control—is most probably to
be avoided, no matter what his title and background. The reliable mentor should be lucid
in teaching, be usually in agreement with the traditional texts, and most often behave
accordingly; make effort to benefit others; be concerned with the needs, not the uses, of
the disciples; be unconcerned about wealth or fame, whether comfortable and well
known or not; and be moderate in life-style, though all fun need not be poison. Such a
mentor, even without great title or lineage, even if not exotic in background, is most
probably reliable.
Once you have chosen a mentor, that mentor may impose further preliminary
practices upon you, such as the “four hundred-thousands” or others deemed necessary
specifically for you. But once a mentor has accepted you as a disciple and agreed to
provide initiation and instruction, you can approach a mandala of Unexcelled Yoga
Unexcelled Yoga begins by developing a creative meditation that harnesses the
imagination to visualize an enlightened self, body, and environment. The exercise is to
imaginatively transform your ordinary self and universe into what you are taught an
enlightened person and environment would be like. The purpose of this is to develop an
archetypal model for your actual transformation. In order to create something, first you
have to imagine it. And imagination can be extremely powerful in life-between reality.
Once you have understood ultimate reality to be empty of any sort of intrinsic
substantiality, reality, identifiability, or objectivity, you become aware of its actual
apparent nature at any level of experience as utterly conventional, merely structured by
the collective imagination of the world of beings.
Driven by ignorance, ordinary beings structure their universe into an ordinary world
maintained by their ordinary imaginations, encoded in language and imagery. Liberated
through wisdom, enlightened beings are free to restructure their universe to respond to
the needs of the many beings, transforming entire worlds into Buddha-lands. The
Unexcelled Yoga Tantra practitioner imitates this ideal by cultivating a purified
perception of the environment as the Buddha-land mandala, and a purified perception of
the self as the actual body, speech, and mind of Buddhahood.
Initiation is the doorway that opens upon this practice of imaginative transformation.
The tantric path begins with the encounter with the vajra, or “diamond,” mentor. This
can be misunderstood to mean that Tantra is the path of “guru devotion,” thinking that
having found the vajra mentor, you merely sit at her feet and worship. A good mentor
rarely lets her capable disciples sit around indulging in mere devotion. True, you must
open your imagination to envision the mentor as the actual Buddha, whose body is the
Emanation Body quintessence of the countless Buddhas of the three times, whose
speech is the Beatific Body, quintessence of the Dharma, and whose mind is the
immutable, all-pervading, and inconceivable body of Truth. You must imaginatively
approach the mentor as the living embodiment of the Sangha, Dharma, and Buddha
Jewels. You must submerge your own imperfect imagination and perception in the
mentor-Buddha’s perfected vision. But then you must immediately adopt the mentor’s
vision, which sees you yourself as a Buddha, sees your potential as actualized in you.
The mentor’s enlightened vision is communicated to you through the ritual of initiation,
which is a kind of anointment as a vajra crown prince of enlightenment. You are formally
installed and exalted on the majestic lion-throne of royal Buddhahood, granted an
imaginative foretaste of the goal of your spiritual quest.
Such initiation is conferred at the outset of tantric practice as the indispensable
entrance, but the first initiation rarely fully empowers the beginner. This is because it
requires a highly disciplined visualization ability actually to enter the mandala palace,
perceive the building and ornaments in all their vivid details, see the mentor-Buddha
within, with his or her retinue, and experience yourself as an archetype deity with many
faces and arms. The real mandala constitutes its own perfected universe, and is not
within the ordinary world. It is an achievement even to glimpse it with the imagination,
using the objects, symbols, and personages in the temple where the consecration is
conferred. Further, you must understand all the vows and pledges involved in the tantric
ethic, and you must have the ability to keep them, which itself requires a high degree of
yogic mastery of mind, senses, and body. However, the first initiation empowers you
according to your ability, and permits you to engage in the study and practice that will
enable you eventually to attain full initiation.
Initiation rituals are immensely complicated. The Unexcelled Yoga Tantras use four
main categories of initiation: the “vase initiation,” which focuses on the body and
empowers you for creation stage visualization practice; the “secret initiation,” which
focuses on speech and empowers you for the initial stages of the perfection stage
transformation practice; the “wisdom-intuition initiation,” which focuses on the mind
and empowers you for the higher stages of the perfection stage; and the “precious word
initiation,” which focuses on body, speech, and mind indivisibly, and empowers you for
the highest integration level of the perfection stage, which corresponds to the Great
Perfection teachings.
The text for the initiations into the mandala of the mild and fierce deities who are
invoked in the Book of Natural Liberation is not included in the generally printed
editions of the work. This is according to the esoteric tradition that a qualified mentor is
the first requirement for initiation. There is no need to circulate a text that cannot be used
without the mentor. However, the first text of the Natural Liberation literature, the Three
Body Mentor Yoga, expresses contemplatively an initiation sequence (I quote in the order
of the initiations):
To the ineffable self-created Emanation Body Mentor
In the palace of the flawless perfect lotus,
I pray ardently with reverent devotion!
Self-freed without abandoning misconceiving hatred,
I freely accept the effortless blessing of the Emanation Body,
As self-evident wisdom’s introspective self-illumination!
Here the mentor is invoked as the Emanation Body Buddha. You, the initiate, then
receive his blessing in the form of white light rays radiating from a diamond OM —the
seed mantra of the body of all Buddhas—On your crown. They enter the crown as
diamond light, blessing the body, conferring the vase initiation, and empowering you to
practice the creation stage.
To the deathless, great bliss Beatific Body Mentor,
In the palace of bright, pure wisdom’s universal bliss,
I pray ardently with reverent devotion!
Self-freed without abandoning lust and longing,
I freely accept the effortless blessing of the Beatific Body
As the automatic liberation of inner wisdom’s universal bliss!
Here the mentor represents the Beatific Body Buddha, emitting ruby light rays from a
red AH—the seed syllable of the speech of all Buddhas—At his throat center, which
enter your throat center, filling you with ruby light, blessing your speech, conferring the
secret initiation, and empowering you to practice the magic body practices of the
perfection stage.
To the birthless, nondeveloping, Truth Body Mentor
In the palace of the perfect, all-pervading Realm of Truth,
I pray ardently with reverent devotion!
Self-freed without abandoning misknowing delusion,
I freely accept the perfect blessing of the Truth Body
As the effortless, nonartificial, primal wisdom!
Here the mentor represents the Truth Body Buddha, emitting sapphire light rays from
a deep blue HUM —the seed syllable of the mind of all Buddhas—At his heart center,
which enter your heart center, filling you with sapphire light, blessing your mind,
conferring the wisdom-intuition initiation, and empowering you to practice the clear light
practices of the perfection stage.
To the impartial great bliss Triple Body Mentor,
In the palace of authentic clear light introspection,
I pray ardently with reverent devotion!
Self-freed without abandoning subject-object dualism,
I freely accept the great bliss Three Body blessing,
As original wisdom’s Three Body spontaneity!
Here the mentor represents the Buddha as the integration of all three bodies, emitting
diamond, ruby, and sapphire light rays from his OM AH HUM seed syllables, which
enter your three centers, filling you with red, white, and blue light, blessing your body,
speech, and mind, conferring the precious word initiation, and empowering you to attain
supreme Buddhahood as perfection stage integration, the Great Seal, or the Great
Perfection. The mentor then dissolves entirely into the three light rays and wholly
merges within you, and you become indivisible with the mentor.
The essential outcome of initiation is that, on both conscious and subconscious levels,
you are imaginatively exalted in the actuality of your own potential enlightenment,
physically, verbally, mentally, and intuitively. While you may still be far from full
realization, your subsequent practice proceeds with that imaginative orientation. You
meditate within the imaginative understanding that perfect enlightenment is fully
immediate and your practice is gradually removing impediments to your realization of
that fact; you no longer assent to the idea that your enlightenment is somewhere beyond,
“out there” in place or in time, to be reached later. This is called “using the result as the
vehicle,” contrasted with exoteric practices, where the vehicle is considered the cause of
an eventual result. Result-vehicle practice proceeds in the stress situation of a paradox or
a focused cognitive dissonance. Your ordinary mind knows that you are not enlightened,
but your cultivated imagination envisions your state of enlightenment as it appears to
other enlightened beings, represented by your mentor. Your visualization of
enlightenment thus exerts a powerful critical pressure on your habitual perception of
unenlightenment, while both are made more flexible by the awareness of the voidness of
This special result-oriented approach is important to understand, not to be misled by
the Great Perfection teachings in the Natural Liberation collection. If you do not
understand precisely how a special cognitive dissonance is being cultivated, when you
hear, “Everything is naturally perfect, just relax and clear light will shine, you’re already
a perfect Buddha!” you will oscillate between two unhealthy responses. At first you
may feel good, thinking that your real “I,” the assumed hard-core self you habitually
sense within, is none other than the Buddha mind; this will lead you deeper into selfaddiction, reinforcing the instinctual self-habit. Later, when you recognize that you don’t
really feel that much better than you did before the text told you you were perfect, you
will conclude that Padma Sambhava was wrong, and you will feel depressed about your
practice and cynical about any practice. This will deprive you of the benefit of the
Natural Liberation, the marvelous spiritual technology of the Tantras, and the
sophisticated and beautiful Great Perfection teachings.
So when you hear that you are in the Great Perfection, recognize this statement as
essentially initiatory, as placing you in the context of your goal and highest imaginable
possibility, opening for you the task of critically removing all the impediments to your
experience of your own reality. And when you feel discouraged, realize you have been
overeager, don’t let yourself go in cynical self-pity, and then disidentify from the hardcore self that wanted enlightenment yesterday or it’s not worth working for. And when
you hear the Great Word of the Great Perfection in the between, when you are detached
from your heavy encasement in a habit-encoded body, you can break free of
impediments much more immediately, more naturally, so the encouragement that your
goal is the clear light within can be crucial in helping you to let go, and not to hide in selfindulgence, not to dodge and doubt. Remember, in that critical moment, hesitation and
self-seeking can be worse than fatal. They can lead to lifetimes spent in uncomfortable
embodiments in unpleasant environments.
Something similar to a creation stage practice for the Natural Liberation system is taught
in The Dharma Practice, Natural Liberation of the Instincts, a text translated in full in
chapter 7. The basic goal of the practice is to harness the imagination to transform the
perception and conception of ordinariness into the vision and experience of
enlightenment. All the elements of the ordinary world—the ordinary subject and the
ordinary object—are imaginatively reenvisioned as pure wisdom energy. Death, the
between, and life are imaginatively converted into the Three Buddha Bodies, Truth,
Beatitude, and Emanation, respectively. The five body-mind aggregates are envisioned as
the five Buddhas, and the five poisons as the five wisdoms. Every other being is
imagined to be a Buddha-deity. Every subtle instinct is imagined a micro Buddha-deity.
Every form is imagined as part of the mandala jewel palace. There are different systems
of doing this. Since it is a creative, imaginative association that is taking place, it is not
necessary to make a rigid correspondence between the impure and purified elements. We
will use the system of the Natural Liberation.
Figure 10. The Five Buddhas, and the corresponding aggregates, poisons,
colors, and wisdoms
The five aggregates of matter, sensation, conception, creation, and consciousness,
along with their five poisons—hate, pride, lust, envy, and delusion—are reenvisioned as
five Buddhas and five kinds of wisdom: Akshobhya and mirror wisdom, Ratnasambhava
and equalizing wisdom, Amitabha and discriminating wisdom, Amoghasiddhi and
wonder-working wisdom, and Vairochana and ultimate perfection wisdom, respectively.
The most ordinary things and the most negative emotions and notions are associated
with specific Buddhas, wisdom energies, colors, precious substances, and symbols, in
order to simulate the actual consciousness of a realized Buddha, who actually sees things
as configurations of blissful and intelligent energies.
You may feel confused, and that feeling of confusion is Vairochana; you may feel
angry, and that anger is Akshobhya. The stuff of your body and objects around it are
Akshobhya, your sensations are Ratnasambhava, your conceptual cluster is Amitabha,
your emotions are Amoghasiddhi, and your consciousness is Vairochana. No longer can
there be dependency on the mentor, since the mentor has imaginatively been fused with
the Buddha-deity, and you have also imaginatively become a Buddha-deity, and a mentor,
under the pressure of all beings’ need for help and liberation. In the initiation, you have
been consecrated with the glory and bliss of enlightenment, and entrusted with the
responsibility of enlightenment to understand the universe and all beings in it, to care for
them, and to see to their ultimate happiness.
Another way of expressing creation stage visualization is in terms of imagining the five
perfections: the perfections of environment, enjoyments, companions, body, and self.
The environment is imagined as the mandala palace of Buddha majesty; any sense of
being in an ordinary environment is corrected by such visualization. Enjoyments are
experienced by enlightened faculties; ordinary objects are perceived only by impure
habit. Companions may seem to be ordinary beings, but they are actually Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas, there to help you realize your own enlightenment. Your body may seem to
be ordinary flesh and blood, but it is actually made of the wisdom stuff of all Buddhas.
You choose an archetypal Buddha-deity to model your self-image upon, assuming a
mild-deity form if that suits your temperament, or a fierce-deity form if you need that to
stir up your deeper energies (see glossary under Archetype Buddha, or Deity, this page).
Your ordinary self-sense of yourself as an alienated individual is critiqued as an impure
self-conception; you now visualize yourself as the manifestation of the diamond of the
wisdom that realizes voidness.
This is the creative, aesthetic context in which you practice Unexcelled Yoga. This
creation stage is a sustained creative meditation using the imagination to shape the
materials of inner vision into a universe of fulfillment. It is structured around the scheme
known as the “three conversions,” conversion of death into the Body of Truth,
conversion of the between into the Body of Beatitude, and conversion of life into the
Body of Emanation. These conversions emerge from two main foundations: the critique
of the habitual perception of the outer environment as the ordinary world of suffering,
which leads to the emergence of this world’s Buddha-land perfection; and the critique of
the concept of the ordinary unhappy self, which leads to the emergence of its
Buddhahood perfection. These pure perceptions and conceptions are systematically
cultivated by the yoga of visualization. A developed “pure perception” and a “Buddhaself-image” open the door to the outer world of great bliss, where all beings are fulfilled,
and to the inner “diamond self of selflessness,” which is great compassion actually
become able to help all beings, through perfect mastery of the cosmic situation. This
pattern of the imaginative conversion of death, between, and life to the Three Buddha
Bodies is clearly evident in the Natural Liberation in the Three Body Mentor Yoga, there
presented in the form of a prayer.
The Dharma Practice, Natural Liberation of the Instincts (see chapter 7), is the closest
thing in this literature to a creation stage practice, through the archetypal Buddha-deities
visualized in miniature mandala patterns in the body of the practitioner, in what is called
a “body mandala” pattern. An arrangement of the Buddha-deities in a large-scale mandala
environment appropriate for the Book of Natural Liberation is not given in the literature
available to me. However, based on the Dharma Practice, I can construct a standard
creation stage practice for the hundred Buddha-deities of the Natural Liberation, in order
to give an idea of how to cultivate in practice a greater familiarity with the symbolism of
the Natural Liberation.
You sit upon your meditation seat, before an icon of any or all of the hundred Buddhadeities, or of the prime Buddha Samantabhadra, or of the original mentor Padma
Sambhava. You set up a modest altar for symbolic offerings, using little bowls of water,
flowers, votive candles, and incense. You place before you a vajra scepter and a vajra
bell, and whatever other implements you may need. You visualize the entire lineage of
Buddhas and mentors as present in the imagined sky before you, from Samantabhadra
(All-around Goodness), Amitabha, and Padma Sambhava, right down through history to
your own personal mentor. You take refuge in them, invite the hundred Buddha-deities,
request them to stay with you, salute them, make offerings to them, confess your sins
and faults, rejoice in the merit of all others, request the teachings from the Buddhas and
mentors, request the teachers not to depart into nirvana, and dedicate the merit of your
practice to the ultimate enlightenment of all beings.
Next you visualize yourself emerging from the truth realm as the Buddha Vajrasattva,
white in complexion, with two arms and peaceful mien, adorned in royal garb and jewel
ornaments, as described in the Dharma Practice. You then recite the hundred-syllable
purification mantra—OM VAJRASATTVA SAM AYA …—and so on, 21 or 108 times
(see chapter 7). This mantra recitation is believed to have the greatest power to purify
sins and remove emotional and intellectual obscurations. Up to here, these ten branches
of preliminary practice follow the Dharma Practice closely. Now, we must interpolate
some sequences standard for creation stage practice, before continuing with the Dharma
Practice’s body mandala.
You then invite all mentors and Buddha-deities to merge with you, and you yourself
dissolve into absolute voidness. You pronounce the mantra OM SHUNYATA JNANA
VAJRA SVABHAVA ATM AKO HAM ! (OM , I am the essence of the intuition of
voidness). From that void you visualize the emergence of a perfect universe, in the center
of which towers a measureless mansion made of five jewel substances, radiant with jewel
light. Within it you arise as indivisible with the Three Bodies of Buddhahood, as the
central deity of the mandala, Samantabhadra in union with your consort, your archetypal
male or female counterpart. You then dissolve as Samantabhadra and arise as Buddha
Vairochana in union with your consort, as depicted in the Dharma Practice. One by one
you visualize the Buddhas of the four directions, their Buddha-goddess consorts, their
attendant Bodhisattvas, their door guardians, all surrounded by the hosts of Buddhadeities. Once you imagine this whole community present within the mandala palace, you
invite the real Buddha-deities to send “wisdom-being” duplicates from their actual
Buddha-lands, which merge within the icon you have imagined. Then you visualize
yourself and all these deities as receiving consecrations from all the deities of the
mandala, who are streaming around you as a vast host of blessing. The overflow energy
radiates out from you as rays of blessings to all beings around you in the universe. These
beings are drawn into the mandala by the magnetic tractor-beam jewel light rays of your
great compassion, where they, too, become consecrated, arise as Buddha-deities, and
stream back outward to establish their own mandalas and bless beings infinitely
throughout the universe.
You then dissolve again into the Body of Truth and arise again, now with your body
itself containing two measureless mansions within it: one at the level of the heart, with
forty-two lotus-moon-sun disc seats, and one at the level of the brain, with fifty-eight
solar discs. In those mansions you visualize the hundred deities as radiantly present,
being your own emotions, instincts, and genetic energies manifest in microdivinity form.
From here you can follow the visualization text of the Dharma Practice. You visualize
each of the deities mentioned in that text, and you see it take its place in your body. At
the end of the visualization, you pray that it will emerge during your future voyage
through the between to conduct you to liberation, which really means to return you to
the deepest essential reality of yourself. At first this visualization process will seem
extremely cumbersome and confusing and frustrating, but persistent, careful repetition
will make it seem more and more familiar, until after a few months of practice with the
proper guidance from your personal mentor, you will feel quite at home with it. It is
mandatory that you consult works of art—any of the exquisite Tibetan tangka icons that
depict these hundred Buddha-deities of the Natural Liberation between-mandala—as it
is too difficult to visualize them just from verbal, linear descriptions.
Finally, this creation stage pattern could be used by non-Buddhist practitioners who
seek to mobilize the Tibetan art of dying to prepare for their own between-transition,
while deepening their sense of contact with the images and deities of their own religion.
The specific pattern should be designed to suit the individual imagery. But the Tibetan
sequence could be helpful: an invocation of the deity or deities, the angelic figures, and
the lineage of great patriarchs of your tradition; a merging with you of these symbols of
benevolence and power; a channeling of the benevolence through you toward all others; a
locking in of the sense of the presence of the divine within every aspect of the body, the
mind, and the ordinary world; a focus on the sense of complete calm in the divine reality
of peace and love; a prayer for the deities chosen to appear to you at the beginning of the
between; and finally a dissolving of the purified universe within a renewed ordinary, but
fortified, person and reality.
The creation stage imaginative manipulation of the jewel plasma of Buddha forms
continues in extravagant detail, getting ever more subtle, until it reaches a point where
one becomes capable of visualizing the entire mandala palace and occupants as contained
within a shining drop at the tip of the nose, heart center, or genitals, and of holding that
precise hologram stable for several hours. At that point, one is ideally ready for the
perfection stage yogas. The creation stage meditation sessions always end with the
dissolution of whatever visionary realms have been created into the clear light of
universal emptiness. They also rehearse at a certain point, in the process of offerings, the
experience of the four ecstasies, which are offered to all the assembled Buddha-deities.
These ecstasies are central in the perfection stage, and will be briefly described below.
The perfection stage can be approached as having five stages, though there are various
ways of arranging them. These stages are called: one, body isolation, isolation of the
body from all impurity of ordinariness; two, vajra repetition, isolation of speech from
the ordinary by the unification of energy-wind and mantra; three, mind isolation or selfconsecration, full dissolution of all energies and structures of consciousness into the
central channel and arisal of the subtle energy-body as the magic body; four, clear light,
repeated voyaging of the magic body through the clear light reality, which deepens the
experience of nonduality; and five, integration, perfect Buddhahood as the indivisibility
of clear light Body of Truth, magic body Body of Beatitude, and the former ordinary
body as Body of Emanation.
There are numerous Tantras used in the different Tibetan Buddhist orders, all inherited
from the creative pioneer work of the great adepts of India. Each one has its own way of
understanding and expressing the path, the creation stages, the perfection stages, and the
final goal itself, Buddhahood. All these Tantras emerge from the same path of
transcendent renunciation, the enlightenment spirit of universal love, and the wisdom of
selfless voidness. All of them accelerate the deepening of wisdom and the development
of compassionate evolution to make possible the achievement of Buddhahood within the
single well-endowed human lifetime. All of them employ the imagination to approximate
the goal state and reach it more quickly. All of them mobilize the subtle mind as great
bliss wisdom to realize ultimate reality and shape its energies for the happiness of all
beings. That they present the process of achieving this one goal of supreme integration
of Buddhahood variously as Great Perfection, Great Seal, bliss-void indivisible, and so
on is a difference of conceptual scheme and terminology, not a difference of the path or
its fruition.
The creation stage terminates in a preliminary form of “body isolation,” which occurs
when your body becomes isolated from all ordinary appearances and self-images. You
actually experience yourself as the deity, feeling as yours the faces and eyes and arms—
just as you sense your ordinary body now—perhaps with other miniature Buddhadeities located at vital points throughout your body, in some form of body mandala. This
is still a gross level, though blissful, of body perception. Body isolation enters the
perfection stage realm when the discrete sense of a gross body is transcended, when
every atom of every part of the body and senses is experienced as a Buddha-deity in an
explosion of visualization beyond the organizing capacities of the gross imagination. The
model of the body is no longer anthropomorphic, the subtle body being perceived as
nerve channels, neural wind-energies, and subtle drops. The mind is the subtle instinctual
consciousness of the three luminances, as already sketched above, along with the system
of nerve centers, winds, and drops.
The mandala palace and deity body visualizations are gross imagination patternings,
which are intended indirectly to open up internal sensitivities in the subtle body-mind.
The perfection stage consciously pursues this internal opening process. To refer back to
the scheme of the gross and subtle body-mind described above (see this page), the neural
wind-energies are enumerated as tenfold: five main energies—vital, respiratory, digestive,
muscular-motor, and evacuative—and five branch energies that power the five senses.
These are now perceived as Buddha-deities. The drops of subtle structure are the male
hormonal essence as in semen, the female hormonal essence as in ovum, called white and
red “spirits of enlightenment,” respectively. The extremely subtle mind of the
indestructible drop is locked in the center of the heart center section of the central
channel. This is the ultimately subtle “self” of selflessness, the ultimate subjectivity of
innate ecstasy that realizes the objective clear light of universal emptiness, already
discussed above. The extremely subtle body is the energy within this drop, although at
this level of fineness there is no longer any body-mind, or even subject-object,
Through various focusing techniques used in the body-isolation perfection stage, you
reach a point of stabilized concentration, where you can rehearse the process normally
experienced only at the time of physical death. Respiration becomes shallow and then
stops entirely. You experience the four stages of melting, of earth into water, water into
fire, fire into air, and air into gross consciousness (identified with space in some
systems), accompanied by the subjective signs called “mirage,” “smoke,” “fireflies,” and
“candle flame” (see this page). This practice must be based on a fully stable Buddhaconfidence—an imaginatively cultivated Buddha-self-image—and purified perception,
isolated from all ordinariness. Otherwise, the involuntary terror and unconscious
resistance to death will disrupt the delicate neurological poise required for you to
traverse the dissolutions.
Next, your gross consciousness dissolves into your subtle consciousness, which is
composed of the eighty natural instincts. These are the subtle, instinctual potentialities,
rather than gross emotions, that obstruct the three intuitions known as luminance,
radiance, and imminence (see this page). The fourth state is the extremely subtle mind,
clear light, or transparency. The subjective signs of the progressive dissolving of one
state into another are called “moonlit sky,” “sunlit sky,” “pitch-dark sky,” and “predawn
Great stability is required throughout this process, since the instincts swirl around as
they dissolve, and there is danger of becoming unsettled by identifying with them. The
dissolution of gross consciousness through luminance intuitions into clear light is
accompanied by entrance of all the wind energies into the central channel. They carry
with them all the white and red life-drops, withdrawn from the outer nerves and the left
and right channels, entering the central channel usually through the midbrow aperture up
into the brain center. If you were not carefully prepared by initiation, instruction, and
practice, you would actually die at this point, and your vital energies would leave the
gross body, once your normally closed central channel was opened. But because the
knots around your central channel have been carefully untangled ahead of time, you
easily avoid this danger, and the subjective death experience becomes your doorway to
the opening of the inner bliss-world of enlightenment.
Figure 11. Movement of energy through the subtle body
Within the stable subjective sense of being a subtle body of channels and centers,
energies, and drops, you concentrate all your energy at the navel center, on a red-hot seed
syllable visualized there with great vividness and stability. Heat blazes from it and
shoots up the central channel. When the consciousness-structuring drops melt down
from the brain center and permeate the throat center, you experience ecstasy and
voidness. When they melt further and descend to the heart center, you experience
supreme ecstasy and extreme voidness. When they reach the navel center, you experience
intense ecstasy and great voidness. When they reach the genital center, you experience
orgasmic ecstasy and universal voidness. You are immersed in the clear light, here called
the metaphoric clear light. You then experience the four ecstasies and four voidnesses in
the reverse order, as the energies and drops move back up gradually through navel, heart,
throat, and brain centers, where reverse order orgasmic ecstasy merges with universal
emptiness a second time. The four ecstasies are summarized in Figure 11.
After enjoying these first tastes of orgasmic ecstasy and universal voidness clear light,
you rearise through the three stages, experiencing the eight signs—predawn sky and so
on—in the reverse order. The energies then emerge from the central channel and circulate
in the gross body, which you experience as if being reincarnated in your old body,
entering it from the top of your head.
This attainment is still far from total Buddhahood, since although the central channel
has been opened, it is still constricted here and there, especially in the heart center, which
has prevented the internally orgasmic permeation process of drops and energies from
reaching the intensity needed to embody the highest wisdom of total Buddhahood. So
you begin the next stage, the stage of vajra repetition, with the precise aim of unraveling
the heart-center knot, through which right and left channels constrict the central nexus of
the whole system and imprison the extremely subtle body-mind.
It has seemed to most scholars of this subject that the opening of the central channel is
a single event; once it’s open, it’s open, so to speak. It has been hard to distinguish
between Hindu kundalini yoga, Taoist energy yogas, and the Buddhist Tantric yogas.
The fact is that the opening of the central channel, like any surgical operation (the scalpel
in this case being critical wisdom coordinated with creative imagination), can be more or
less complete. There are numerous ecstatic experiences, which affect the central nervous
system in a variety of ways.
The vajra-recitation practice cultivates the transcendence of the ordinariness of time,
as the body isolation transcended ordinariness of space. The root of time is respiration,
and so the wind energies are united with mantras, especially OM AH HUM , the vajras,
or diamonds, of body, speech, and mind. The other wind energies are perceived as
Buddha-deities, and this is cultivated in an extremely refined meditative technique until
you become a living OM AH HUM , alone in the center of an empty universe. When
complete concentration develops in this way, the normal respiration ceases, and the
dissolution process outlined above ensues, with the difference that the four ecstasies and
four voidnesses occur when the energies and drops in the central channel penetrate the
central chambers of the heart center in a certain sequence.
The opening of the heart center is a delicate untangling process, highly dangerous if
forced, and therefore the vajra recitation can take many years for even the most capable
yogi or yogini. Its goal is reached when all impediments in the heart center are gone, and
the dissolutions can lead to the orgasmic ecstasy that engages the indestructible
consciousness-energy drop in the center of the heart. This is then called the “mind
isolation,” as the mind is isolated from any nonexperience of great bliss. The subtlest
mind becomes the mind of great bliss, which becomes the ultimate subjectivity for the
cognition of the still metaphoric clear light of universal voidness or of selflessness.
This achievement of mind isolation is a deeper form of orgasmic ecstasy, of universal
voidness clear-light samadhi. You then arise in the subtle magic body with the signs and
marks of Buddhahood. This magic body is made of pure neural energy flashing up from
the clear light. It is like the between-body, and like the body you have when you arise in
a dream, its eyes are like the eyes you see with in the dream, its ears and other senses
like the between or dream senses. If you choose, although you no longer involuntarily
need to reenter your ordinary gross body, you may, for the benefit of beings, reactivate
that body. Subsequently, when you fall asleep, you enter the clear light automatically.
When you dream, you arise in the sleep Beatific Body. When your dream body returns
and you wake, you experience it as the sleep Emanation Body. If you decide to leave
your ordinary body due to some circumstance, you will employ the dissolution and
arisal processes to achieve the death Body of Truth, the between Body of Beatitude, and
the reincarnation Body of Emanation.
Self-consecration proceeds from mind isolation’s opening of the heart-knot, which
brings the extremely subtle body-mind of the indestructible drop into play as the
ultimate subjectivity of orgasmic ecstasy for the ultimate objectivity of the clear light.
The practice proceeds with the inner condition of the dissolution-compression process
and the outer conditions of union with a consort. Respiration ceases, the eight signs
emerge, the emergent and reverse orders of four ecstasies and four voidnesses are
experienced. Now, when resurrection from the clear light occurs, the subtlest subjectivity
controls the neural energies as the fivefold rainbow light rays of the five Buddhawisdoms and shapes them into the actual magic body. It is technically called “impure” at
this stage, and is described by five similes: dream body, Vajrasattva’s mirror image, moon
in water, phantom, and bubble. It is a dream body, in that it exists as if apart from the
gross body, emerging from it yet reentering it. It is like Vajrasattva’s mirror image in that
it appears with the hundred-and-twelve superhuman signs. It is like the moon in water in
that the one moon appears wherever there is a body of water to reflect it, as the magic
body manifests wherever beings need it. It is like a phantom in that it appears
substantial yet lacks any substantiality. And it is like a bubble in that it irrepressibly
bubbles forth from the clear light ground.
The fourth stage, clear light, ensues after six to eighteen months of practice of the third
stage of magic body. You constantly immerse yourself in clear light, returning to your
gross body, teaching beings, developing the field of beings in society, and so forth. The
depth of the immersion increases, and finally you reach the actual, objective clear light,
no longer the metaphoric clear light. In the objective clear light, your third stage magic
body merges like a rainbow fading in the sky, attaining the irresistible path that directly
remedies addictive obscurations. You have the usual series of ecstasies and voidnesses.
At the moment of emerging from the objective clear light into the reverse-order
imminence intuition, you become a saint, gain the pure magic body, gain the liberation
path abandoning the emotional obscurations, and achieve the learner’s integration.
The fifth stage, integration, is accomplished after further immersion practice conquers
the intellectual obscurations, the obstructions of omniscience that prevent even the
highest Bodhisattva from understanding perfectly all the levels of causality of the
superficial worlds of living beings, hence impede his or her mastery of liberative art. This
integration is the integration of the pure magic body, the perfection of compassion as
orgasmic ecstasy, with the objective clear light, the perfection of wisdom as universal
voidness intuition. The great Indian adept Nagarjuna’s The Five Stages describes
integration (my translation):
Abandoning the two notions of the samsaric life-cycle and the
nirvanic liberation, there, where they become the same, that is
called “integration.” Knowing the addictive and the purificative
both as the absolute itself; who knows them as just the same,
knows this integration. Knowing wisdom and compassion as the
same, who acts in such a way is said to have attained integration.
Freedom from the two notions of subjective selflessness and
objective selflessness is the nature of integration. Free from
mindfulness and carelessness, having a constantly spontaneous
character, the yogi who acts as he pleases abides in the stage of
integration.… The perfectly pure deity and this so-called
“imperfection,” who understands them as inseparable, he is the
integrated one.… Thus, the yogi who abides in such a place
abides in the stage of integration. He sees the reality of
omniscience, and is called the “upholder of variety.” Buddhas
quite as numerous as the sands of the Ganges realized this very
thing and, abandoning being and nothing, attained the essence of
the Great Seal.… So knowing, the intuitive one does everything
without hesitation, achieving all by the hidden discipline, attaining
all perfections. By the merit gained from teaching this supreme
fifth stage, may the whole world sport in this samadhi of
These processes of perfection stage yoga are breathtaking. This sketch would never
enable you to practice them in any way. The point of providing it is to let you know
what remarkable arts are available to prepare for every possible contingency of death,
between, and life. It inspires us to master the possibilities, if not in this life, in another.
The Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between does not, at least in
the texts provided in the usual collection, provide instruction in the complete perfection
stage. The great world of Great Perfection, describing the culminatory realities of the
fourth and fifth stages, is given as a goal. And the newly deceased adept Lamas are given
the brief instruction that they should practice the teachings they have mastered and they
will be liberated in the death-point beginning of the reality between. But the Book of
Natural Liberation is mainly aimed at those of us unable to reach the heights of the
On the other hand, there is a way in which all the aspects of these perfection stages
are subtly available to the audience of the Book of Natural Liberation. The between is
after all a time of crisis after death, when the soul (the very subtle mind-body) is in its
most highly fluid state. Naturally much of the art of Tantra is designed to work with
precisely that totally transformable subtle state. If the good person, who has a strong
momentum of good evolutionary action, is unprepared for the between, he or she can
lose an enormous amount of evolutionary progress in the twinkling of an eye by
becoming frightened and hiding in darkness. Similarly, a bad person, who has a great
weight of negative evolution, if well prepared for the between, can overcome immense
eons of wretched lives by bravely shooting for the light. After all, a tiny achievement on
the subtle plane can have a powerful impact on the gross. The soul in the between can
directly modify, just with creative imagination, what the Buddhists call “the spiritual
genes” it carries with it. The between voyager has temporarily an immensely heightened
intelligence, extraordinary powers of concentration, special abilities of clairvoyance and
teleportation, flexibility to become whatever can be imagined, and the openness to be
radically transformed by a thought or a vision or an instruction. This is indeed why the
between-traveler can become instantly liberated just by understanding where he or she is
in the between, what the reality is, where the allies are, and where the dangers. So, no
matter how advanced the perfection stages and Great Perfection may seem to those of us
embedded in the pursuits of ordinary life, beings in the crisis of the between would do
well at least to know about it from study. This surely underlies M aster Padma
Sambhava’s intention in composing this unique work, which, without compromising
esoteric strictures, communicates the perfection stage possibilities to the ordinary
people of Tibetan society, as the Tibetan lamas do today to us ordinary people in global
It is hard to make suggestions about how a non-Buddhist yogi or yogini might learn
about the perfection stages and design parallel processes that fit with his or her
worldview. There are certainly adept traditions in all the great literate and earth religions,
and all of these certainly deal with the basic realities of life and death. The genuine
shaman knows of the dissolution process, knows of divine allies and demonic
interferences, and usually finds a ground of benevolence and trust, some sort of Lord of
Compassion. The monastics of all ages have experimented with journeys of the soul, and
some have lived to recount their experiences in useful works. Sufi and Taoist adepts have
given instructions and maintain living traditions. The Tibetan tradition can be used by
any seeker in any of these traditions for its systematic technologies and its penetrating
According to the texts themselves, the Book of Natural Liberation Through
Understanding in the Between was composed by the great adept Padma Sambhava, and
dictated by him to his Tibetan consort, the yogini Yeshe Tsogyal. It was probably
written in the late eighth century C.E. Padma Sambhava is a semilegendary figure, whose
mythical biography contains some episodes similar to the life of Buddha Shakyamuni
and others similar to those of the eighty-four great adepts. Padma Sambhava’s name is
one of the root mantras of the fierce form of Avalokiteshvara, the horse-head-crowned
Hayagriva. (Fierce deities are still compassionate, but in a “tough-love” way.) Padma
Sambhava is said to have issued from the tongue of Amitabha Buddha in the western
Pure Land of Bliss in the form of a rainbow-trailing meteor. This was Amitabha’s answer
to an appeal from Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara to do something more for beings on earth
in the kingdom of Udyana, who were about to suffer a catastrophe due to the frustration
of their king, who could not beget an heir. The meteor raced to earth and plunged into a
lotus lake in a pleasant valley in the northwest Indian subcontinent, in what is now
Pakistan. Where it landed a giant lotus grew, within which, in due time, a beautiful boy
was seen sitting in the midst of rainbow auras. When asked his origin, he said, “M y
mother is wisdom, my father compassion, my country the Dharma of reality.”
Padma Sambhava is something like the Tibetan Superman. He is the great adept’s
adept. He is an Emanation Body Buddha, able to teach about the between because he can
travel through it at will himself. After living for centuries in India accomplishing
beneficial wonders, he went to Tibet at the invitation of emperor Trisong Detsen, to help
him and the Indian abbot and philosopher Shantarakshita build the first monastery ever
to take root in that warlike land. He tamed many demons in Tibet, gave many teachings,
including the Natural Liberation, and eventually disappeared to his own paradise on
earth, the Copper Glory M ountain, which is somewhere in Africa or Arabia. He still
lives there, according to Tibetan mythic vision.
Anticipating the great persecution of the ninth century that was to destroy much of
early Tibetan Buddhism, Padma Sambhava hid numerous texts throughout Tibet,
including the Book of Natural Liberation. After the eventual restoration, traditions of
spiritual “treasure-discoverers” (Tib., tertoen) emerged, who exhibited extraordinary
powers of clairvoyance, including X-ray vision. They were often thought to be
reincarnations of aspects of Padma Sambhava himself, or of his twenty-five major tantric
disciples. There are numerous accounts of their finding texts in caves high on cliffs,
underground, in rocks and trees. Sometimes they found treasures in their minds, hidden
there by the master during their former lives, sealed in the memory codes of their
spiritual genes, and discovered at the right moment when people had need of them in
some later life and century. This tradition was in keeping with ancient Indian Buddhist
precedent, especially in the world of the great adepts. After all, the entire Universal
Vehicle sutra and Tantra collection itself was believed to have been discovered during the
first century B.C.E. by the adept Nagarjuna, in the palace of the dragon king at the bottom
of the Indian Ocean!
A famous treasure discoverer of the fourteenth century was called Karma Lingpa. He
is claimed by some to have been an incarnation of Padma Sambhava himself. He
discovered the Book of Natural Liberation collection in a cave on the Gampo Dar
mountain in central Tibet. There have been numerous disputes, in Tibet as well as in the
West, about the authenticity of such “treasure-teachings,” These disagreements are not
very important for us, since the best way to judge a text such as the Book of Natural
Liberation is by its content, not by its cover. If its content contradicts the mainstream of
the Buddhist tradition, if it seems incoherent, if it seems ill-founded, and so forth, then it
can be dismissed as a crude fabrication. If its content is in keeping with the Buddhist
intellectual, psychological, and spiritual tradition, if it is reasonably presented, lucid,
meaningful, and useful, then it should be accepted as an authentic Buddhist teaching, an
authentic treatise of Buddhist science and a testament of Buddhist faith. Once that is
established, if the tradition itself claims it was authored by Padma Sambhava, then we
might as well accept that too.
As for exactly who Padma Sambhava was—was he really a spiritual Superman, is he
still alive, and so on—we do not need to pass judgment on these articles of religious faith
in order to study and use the text. Naturally, we moderns are not predisposed to expect
such things to be true; though secretly, most of us are still hoping.
What is relevant, though, is why Karma Lingpa discovered the text when he did. The
fourteenth century saw a great spiritual, institutional, and social renaissance in Tibet,
generated by the many outstanding lamas of the Kadam, Sakya, Kagyu, and Nyingma
orders, and culminating in the great synthesis achieved by Lama Jey Tsong Khapa
around the year 1400 C.E. All these lamas were scholars, saints, scientists, and
psychonaut explorers. A great many of them are believed to have attained the ability of
what we can call “lucid dying.” They had practiced the perfection stage yogas we have
outlined during a lifetime of total focus on enlightenment and had achieved success in the
inner moon-walks, sun-shots, and ultimate-clear-light-shots of that yoga—every bit as
challenging and significant as the outer moon-walks of our astronauts! Thus when they
died, they often manifested wondrous signs to those left behind, they maintained their
own conscious continua of awareness, and they used the death occasion to enjoy and
solidify their attainment of the Three Bodies of Buddhahood. On top of all that, they
consciously chose to reemanate from the clear light foundational reality to take
reincarnation in the meeting of parental genes in the womb of a Tibetan mother. They
gave clues to their followers as to where to find them. They spoke up as small children
and demanded to be returned to their home monasteries and circles of disciples. And
they used life after life to develop their own enlightenment abilities, to develop those
fortunate enough to be their disciples, and to continue to develop Tibetan, Himalayan,
M ongolian, M anchurian, and Chinese societies toward fully enlightenment-oriented
human civilizations. These lama adepts became so successful and commonly accepted
that Tibetans became accustomed to the presence of many reincarnations, so much so
that they almost refused to accept the spiritual authority of any lama who was not
working through his or her third or seventh or eleventh enlightened life. These lamas
were the most advanced research scientists, the most charismatic holy men and women,
the most respected social leaders, and the most beloved members of Tibetan society.
Thus the era of the fourteenth century was ripe for teachings to emerge that made the
death-rebirth transition plain and clear to the wider society. The fact and phenomena of
the between had long been known and fully described in the vast sutra collection and its
commentami literature, translated from Sanskrit during the first five centuries of Tibetan
Buddhism. The technologies of traversing the between, such as those taught in the Book
of Natural Liberation, had long been available in the vast literature of the Tantras. The
original collections of basic Tantras and their Indian commentaries by the great adepts
formed a total of several hundred 2000-page volumes of works (in English translation
equivalent) translated from Indian language originals. A rich Tibetan secondary literature
was rapidly proliferating, created by the hundreds of thousands of Tibetan scholars and
adepts educated in the thousands of monastic universities of all the orders established
during these centuries of renaissance.
So the time had come for a treasure-discoverer to unearth another jewel in the fabulous
legacy of the lotus-born M aster Padma Sambhava. Totally appropriate to this
circumstance, a work was discovered that used the mandala, or purified universe, of the
Guhyagarbha (Esoteric Quintessence) Tantra, one of the most important “old” (that is,
translated into Tibetan in the early period of the eighth and ninth centuries) Tantras. This
mandala transmuted the ordinary human world into a perfected environment of exalted
happiness inhabited by a community of a hundred mild and fierce archetypal Buddhadeities, who represented the elements of human psychophysical existence in their fully
evolved form. These deities were forms expressing their complete freedom from any
coerced experience, complete happiness in their chosen functions, and complete
capability to share their happiness with all others, according to those others’ capacity to
participate in that sharing. They serve as the templates for the goal of human evolution,
and so they are archetypes for the enlightened fruition of all human physical and
spiritual energies. This mandala had long been used by adepts for their own creative and
transcendent meditations.
The special contribution of this discovered work, then, was the expansion of access to
the mandalic world of these contemplative archetypes. The ordinary person who had not
received lifelong education at a monastic university and had not had ability, preparation,
opportunity, and support to spend years in concentrated practice was able to encounter
this hundred-deity mandalic community of her own perfected energies in the time of
crisis when she needed it most—at the time of her death and after-death transition.
Although the teaching urged her in direct and indirect ways not to wait for that critical
juncture, it reached out to her anyway, not requiring initiation or study. It let her know
that her intelligence for the understanding of reality, her power of vision, opportunity for
independent choice, responsibility for far-reaching beneficence, and readiness for
transformation were about to be temporarily boosted ninefold, during the between
experience. It offered her immediate access to the highest technology of between-space
travel, freely and easily. It allowed her, and family and friends, to have a much better
sense of what the psychonauts had been through, what they had faced, and what they
had achieved. This, at the very least, enabled her and her associates to increase their faith
in the psychonaut lamas, be more open to receiving their help, be more alert on the
lookout for their appearance as guides and allies during the difficulties of the between
Naturally the discovered treasure text was highly appreciated in renaissance Tibet. It
was copied and printed from the fifteenth century on, disseminated widely, and widely
imitated. Parallel treatises were composed, adding dimensions from lore contained
elsewhere in the texts and in the received oral traditions of all four orders. These treatises
developed in a wide variety. On the popular level, there are amulet texts, which list
protective prayers and diagrams to be printed, tightly wound, and placed into metal
amulets to be worn by living or dying persons. There are icon texts, which are
themselves icons of Buddha’s speech that were used as objects of worship. There are
protection mantra texts, which list long and short mantras to be memorized and recited.
At the more elite level, there are technical manuals for soul-transmission practices, which
instruct adepts in practices for consciously leaving the body. There have been ever more
streamlined archetype mandala patterns, refining visualization methods and making them
more memorable and efficacious. And there have been ever more explicit contemplative
instructions, incorporating new ideas and more sophisticated techniques garnered from
the experiences of new generations of adept practitioners.
As might be expected, although the text has become more or less fixed over the centuries,
it seems to vary somewhat in different recensions. The Natural Liberation collections
themselves usually intimate that there are more works in the group than are included in a
particular edition. The best organized collection I have so far encountered has the
following table of contents, ordered according to the Tibetan alphabet:
Index of works concerning the Natural Liberation Through
Understanding, from the Profound Teaching, Natural
Liberation Through Contemplating the Mild and Fierce
Deities (1 folio)
The Prayer of the Three Buddha Body Mentor Yoga from the Natural Liberation
Without Abandoning the Three Poisons (3 folios)
Prayer of the Reality Between from the Natural Liberation Through
Understanding (36 ff)
Way of Arisal of the Fierce Deity Between (21 ff)
Prayer of Calling for Help from Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (3 ff)
Root Verses of the Six Betweens (3 ff)
Prayer for Deliverance from the Straits of the Between (4 ff)
Orientation for the Existence Between from the Great Liberation Through
Understanding (35 ff)
nya. Liberation by Wearing, Natural Liberation of the Body (24 ff)
The Prayer for Refuge from All Terrors of the Between (3 ff)
The Dharma Practice, Natural Liberation of the Instincts (26 ff)
The Hundred Homages, Natural Liberation from Sins and Obscurations (15 ff)
The Vast of the Mild and Fierce, The Confession Natural Liberation (24 ff)
The Natural Liberation Through Naked Vision, Identifying the Intelligence (15 ff)
pha. Natural Liberation Through Signs, Investigating Death (25 ff)
Cheating Death, The Natural Liberation from Fear (11 ff)
The Instruction Teaching the Natural Form of Virtue and Vice in the Existence
Between, The Existence Between Natural Liberation (18 ff)
Accessory Method of the Instruction Teaching the Natural Form of Virtue and
Vice in the Existence Between (8 ff)
Total 275 folios, printed in India from the Shahatadara, the
Great mNga sde, in the first day of the first month of 1985
Of these 275 folios, our main text here consists of translations of 150 folios, 108
folios of the main text and 42 folios of preliminary prayers and appended practices. The
108 folios of the main text have been translated twice before, first by the Kazi DawaSamdup and W. H. Y. Evans-Wentz team, and later by the Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
and Francesca Fremantle team. Of the two sections included here in Part Three, The
Dharma Practice, Natural Liberation of the Instincts is previously untranslated. The
Natural Liberation Through Naked Vision, Identifying the Intelligence was previously
translated by W. H. Y. Evans-Wentz, and again by John M . Reynolds. Since it gives a
sustained view of the philosophical underpinnings of the Book of Natural Liberation, I
retranslated it from the Tibetan using my terminology and interpretation, to fit with the
rest of the new translation. Of the remaining sections untranslated here, the “pha”
section on the death signs has been translated by Glenn M ullin. The other sections will
doubtless be translated in the future, when scholars produce more erudite versions for
In the spirit of the original treasure, which was intended by M aster Padma Sambhava
as a practical help for people in general, I have tried to present a popular, practical
version of the Book of Natural Liberation. I have arranged the text in the way I thought
would be most useful for those who are using it in regard to the actual occasion of death,
either when they are approaching their own death or when someone near them is dying. I
have placed the all-important prayers in a beginning section (in the order mentioned in
the preliminaries section of the reality between), since according to the instructions they
must be recited at the outset anyway. Then I present the three betweens—the deathpoint, reality, and existence betweens—distinguishing by bold typeface those sections
that should actually be read aloud in the presence of the dead. The sections of the
translation are ordered as follows:
Three Body Mentor Yoga
Help from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
Deliverance from the Straits of the Between
Refuge from All Terrors of the Between
Root Verses of the Six Betweens
The death-point between
The mild deity reality between
The fierce deity reality between
The existence between
The Dharma Practice, Natural Liberation of the Instincts
The Natural Liberation Through Naked Vision,
Identifying the Intelligence
Both the Tibetan editions I had to work with are somewhat rough and unpolished, as
is usual for popular texts. M isprints are frequent, spellings are irregular, and the two
texts sometimes differ in their readings in small ways. A useful scholarly enterprise
would be to gather a large number of Book of Natural Liberation editions and prepare a
critical edition. I have not done this, and have not burdened the text with cumbersome
footnotes giving variant readings in the editions that I have. The dead and the bereaved
are not in the mood for such scholarly niceties. I have used Sanskrit names for deities
wherever possible, using a phonetically obvious transliteration system. Their names
were originally given in Indian languages, which the Tibetans translated into Tibetan,
since the Indo-European diphthongs and consonant clusters were difficult for them to
pronounce. English is an Indo-European language and finds the Indian names more
I have already given an elucidation of the main background concepts I think you will
need. I also provide a running commentary to the translation, distinguished from the
translation by its smaller print. Unfamiliar terms are footnoted at the first occurrence,
and otherwise can be looked up in the glossary.
As I conclude this work, I am struck by the preoccupation with euthanasia among the
terminally ill and elderly in America. It is clear that the Book of Natural Liberation
deplores suicide unless the person has already attained liberation, or is confident he or
she can do so in the between. Suicide is the negative evolutionary action of taking life.
For a Tantric practitioner, it is deicide, since the body is itself a deity body, and is the
abode of numerous micro deities. On the other hand, people are trying to become less
passive about their suffering, trying to assert some control over their lives by asserting
control over their deaths. They are finally growing up to the fact that authorities have
limited knowledge and ability. They are waking up to the fact that the quality of living is
more important than the raw quantity of time involved. And they are bravely making
their own decisions.
Unfortunately, those who consider themselves terminal in some disease and in pain,
who may have used the suicide manual or contemplate doing so, most likely believe that
destroying their brains is itself the achievement of “instant liberation” pictured as total
oblivion. This will turn out to have been a tragic miscalculation for some of them. There
are surely those who are habitually happy and cheerful people, kind and generous and
able to let go without much trouble, who will manage to recognize the brighter light and
merge with it, in spite of their surprise at not finding oblivion and even without formal
preparation. But there will also be those who are more tense and rigid, who try to keep
control at all costs, unless they have a guarantee of nothingness, who are very attached
to their bodies, their possessions, their identities, their comforts. These people will
really suffer in the maelstrom of the between and will have poor chances of coming out
well, in a good position on the wheel of possibilities, much less of attaining liberation.
So I hope that at least some of these people, or their loved ones and friends, find this
book, this Great Book of Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between, and
try to put it to use, even along the lines of Pascal’s wager. I hope the work will be of
benefit to them. If it helps even one, it will fulfill the aim of M aster Padma Sambhava
and his colleagues, and my effort will have been worthwhile.
May all beings be blessed by the Three Jewels!
May the planet be at peace, and the earth stay beautiful!
May all beings be happy!
May all have good fortune!
The following five prayers and verses are the backbone of the entire Book of Natural
Liberation. They are the core program of the whole process. They are meant to be
memorized and then recited at different points while giving the longer instructions. First,
the Three Body Mentor Yoga provides a meditation on the ideal transformation process
envisaged by the Book of Natural Liberation. It brings that ideal close by focusing it
through the person of the spiritual mentor, a person well known to, and revered by, the
practitioner. The other four prayers form a set that is frequently referred to throughout
the Book of Natural Liberation. The Prayer for Help is a straightforward prose appeal to
the Three Jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, to extend their saving
compassion to one who is dying or is in the process of the between. The Prayer for
Deliverance follows the pattern of experiences in the reality between, praying for all the
elements of ordinary existence to transform into agents of liberation. The Prayer for
Refuge continues entreating the enlightened beings for assistance and protection. The
emphasis is not so much on liberation as on refuge throughout future lives. It accords
more with the existence between, when it is harder to achieve complete liberation and the
concern is more with securing a favorable rebirth. The Root Verses of the Six Betweens
provide a final summary of the six betweens, their contemplation transforming the entire
cycle of time into a vehicle for enlightenment.
If you are using this book for someone who is in the process of dying or has already
entered the between, it might be better to read the Three Body Mentor Yoga and the
Prayer for Help to set up a favorable context, and then skip to the Reality Between itself,
encountering the individual verses of the other prayers set in the context of the general
instructions. In this entire translation section, boldface type indicates direct translations
that are meant to be read aloud in the performance of the Natural Liberation for someone
in the dying and between processes. M aterial set in ordinary type is in two sizes: the
larger size indicates direct translations of the treasure text’s original instructions and
commentary, the smaller size indicates commentary and instructions by the translator.
I include this particular Natural Liberation prayer, subtitled
The Natural Liberation Without Abandoning the Three
Poisons, first. It is first in the original collection and it most
concisely and beautifully establishes the context you need to use
the subsequent Natural Liberations. The importance of the
personal mentor relationship—reliance on a person who can
represent to you the ultimate reality and power of the cosmos,
however you define it—cannot be overstated.
A “mentor yoga” is a visualization meditation invoking the
presence of the spiritual teacher who has initiated you into the
sacred realm of your chosen form of Buddhahood. Once the
presence has been invoked, the mentor is visualized as merging
with you indivisibly, so that you become the teacher, the Buddha,
the authority. Then you send out your blessing to all beings as the
Buddha-mentor has given his blessing to you. Since most of us
have not been initiated, we can think of this mentor as Padma
Sambhava, the author of the Book of Natural Liberation. The
Three Bodies of a Buddha are a way to think about the
inconceivability of a perfect Buddha, expressing an enlightened
being’s oneness with ultimate reality, personal beatitude, and
emanational creativity for the sake of others. The mentor should
be visualized as an embodiment of these three aspects of ultimacy,
so that you cultivate the feeling of grace when in the presence of
the mentor. The mentor should be visualized in the imaginative
space of the mind’s eye before you, seated on a royal jewel
throne of divine proportions, surrounded by all the Buddhas,
deities, angels, and other powerful, wise, and beloved beings. If
your personal mentor is a loved one, a priest or holy person of
any religion, or a doctor, healer, or shaman, then visualize him or
her accordingly.
The three poisons, greed, hate, and delusion, arc the three
primary addictions that drive the unenlightened, suffering-ridden
life cycle. Liberation that occurs without eliminating them is truly
natural, the immediate transformation of the Great Perfection
“OM” is the mantric, or magically creative, sound that
resonates with transcendent oneness, and so is used at the
beginning of mantras to invoke the transcendent or divine into
manifestation. “AV KAA AAH” is more unusual. “AV” indicates
voidness, the lack of rigid identity in all things and hence their
malleability for the creative artistry of great compassion. “KAA”
represents the “A” sound of cosmic creativity emerging from the
“K” position of beginning, k being the first consonant. “AAH” is
the mantra of enlightened speech.
To the unborn, nondeveloping, Truth Body Mentor,
In the palace of the perfect, all-pervading Realm of Truth,
With reverent devotion, ardently I pray!
S elf-freed without abandoning misknowing delusion,
I freely accept the perfect Truth Body blessing,
As effortless, nonartificial, primal wisdom!
Here you focus on your mentor’s oneness with absolute
reality, feeling yourself united with that reality through the presence
of your mentor. The instant you remember the infinity of the
ultimate you feel the overwhelming flood of the grace of your own
inseparability from the ultimate, recognizing that it is impossible for
anything ever to have not been one with its irresistibly infinite
presence. You instantly feel free, and even the mental addiction of
delusion feels naturally transformed into the sense of the presence
of the absolute, no longer needing to be abandoned. You visualize
a deep blue sparkling sapphire HUM at the heart of your mentor.
It radiates a sapphire blue light that enters your heart-center and
fills it with the buoyant wisdom of freedom. This visualization
sequence is associated with receiving the wisdom intuition
initiation, practicing the perfection stage, the clear light
transparency, the moment of death, the mind, and the Truth Body.
To the deathless, great bliss Beatific Body Mentor
In the palace of bright, pure wisdom’s universal bliss,
With reverent devotion, ardently I pray!
S elf-freed without abandoning lust and longing,
I freely accept the effortless Beatific Body blessing,
As the natural liberation of inner wisdom’s universal bliss!
You focus on your mentor’s ceaseless feeling of beatific bliss,
noticing his or her smiling, loving look upon you. Instantly you feel
flooded with the same joy and bliss of your oneness with the
ultimate, articulated as your individual freedom and happiness,
freed from any agitation of lust or longing for any supposed
happiness outside of yourself. You visualize a bright ruby red
AAH at the throat-center of your mentor, radiating brilliant rays of
ruby light. These rays shine upon you and enter your own throatcenter, blessing your speech with buoyant enlightened wisdom.
This visualization is associated with receiving the secret initiation,
attaining the magic body, the between, speech, and the Beatific
To the ineffable, self-created Emanation Body Mentor,
In the palace of the flawless perfect lotus,
With reverent devotion, ardently I pray!
S elf-freed without abandoning misconceiving hatred,
I freely accept the effortless Emanation Body blessing
As self-evident wisdom’s introspective self-illumination!
Here you focus on your mentor’s boundlessly creative artistry
of emanating active embodiments of enlightenment to interact
compassionately with other beings. Instantly you feel partnership
in Lotus Clan activity of manifesting distinct embodiments of
liberative art, freed from any agitation or irritation at the ugliness
and intractability of the forms of life. You visualize a glistening
diamond OM at the mentor’s crown-center, radiating dazzling
rays of white light that fill up your own brain-center. This
visualization is associated with receiving the vase initiation,
practicing the creation stage, life, the body, and the Emanation
To the impartial great bliss Triple-Body Mentor,
In the palace of authentic clear light introspection,
With reverent devotion, ardently I pray!
S elf-freed without abandoning subject-object dualism,
I freely accept the great bliss Triple Body blessing
As original wisdom’s Triple Body spontaneity!
Here you focus on the mentor and yourself becoming
indivisibly merged as the Absolute, Beatific, and Emanation
Bodies of enlightenment in the Great Perfection spontaneity.
Instantly you feel complete and perfect within yourself, integrating
the infinity of the Buddhaverse within you, freed from any sense of
duality about yourself and any alien, objective universe. You
visualize diamond, ruby, and sapphire lights, radiating from the
OM AH HUM at the mentor’s crown, throat, and heart centers
and filling your three centers with white, red, and blue lights and
bliss. Then the mentor dissolves into light rays that merge into you,
and you and your mentor become one and the same. This
visualization is associated with receiving the fourth initiation, the
attainment of the integration stage, the practice of the Great
Perfection, the enlightened death-between-life indivisible reality,
the body-speech-mind indivisible, and the Three Bodies
O compassion on these suffering conscious beings
Who wander in the life cycle, darkened with delusions,
Not knowing their own minds as the infinite Truth Body—
May all of them attain the Body of Truth!
Now you have yourself become the mentor and so no longer
need any further blessing or grace for yourself. You look out upon
the infinite field of beings in your mind’s eye, seeing them look up
to you for help and happiness. You first of all see through them as
ultimately one with the infinite transparency of ultimate reality. The
deep blue sapphire HUM at your heart center gently explodes
with radiant blue light that shines into their hearts, making them,
too, feel one with ultimate reality. The happiness they feel from
receiving that blessing radiates back to the HUM as more blue
light, making it more and more inexhaustibly powerful.
O compassion on these conscious beings, misguided in desires,
Who wander in the life cycle, identifying with lust and clinging,
Not knowing their self-awareness as great bliss Beatific Body—
May all of them attain the Body of Beatitude!
Now you, the mentor, look out again upon the infinite field of
beings in your mind’s eye, seeing them look up to you for help
and happiness. You notice their bliss at feeling one with the infinite
transparency of ultimate reality. The bright ruby red AAH at your
throat center gently explodes with radiant red light that shines into
their throats, intensifying their happiness further so they overflow
with the impulse to express their beatitude. That bliss sends forth
infinite poetic expressions of love and joy, which send more ruby
light rays back to the AAH at your throat, making it more and
more inexhaustibly powerful.
O compassion on these misconceiving beings
Who wander in the life cycle, with the dualistic mind of hate,
Not knowing their own minds as the born-free Emanation Body—
May they all attain the Body of Emanation!
Now you, the mentor, look out upon the infinite field of beings
in your mind’s eye, seeing them look up to you in intensifying bliss.
You notice that their bliss flows toward infinite other beings who
feel excluded from the Great Perfection of reality. The diamond
white OM at your crown center gently explodes with radiant
white light that shines into their crowns, intensifying their bliss
further so they overflow with the impulse to emanate in physical
forms that can interact with infinite alienated beings. Infinite
Emanation Bodies stream forth from the network of diamond light
rays, interacting with infinite beings, pleasing and freeing them.
Their happiness and relief flows back as more white light, making
your diamond OM light even more inexhaustibly powerful.
O compassion on all beings who are not yet Buddhas,
Trapped by the presence-habit of addictive and objective veils,
Not knowing their own minds as the indivisible Three Bodies—
May they all attain the Three Bodies of Buddhahood!
Now you, the mentor, look out upon the infinite field of beings
in your mind’s eye, seeing them look up to you in infinite
interpenetrating happiness. You notice that their bliss is integrated
with their sense of oneness with you and all beings in ultimate
reality. Their rays of blessing toward you become as infinitely
powerful as your rays toward them. You feel the infinitely
expanding bliss of inter-penetration with them, which seems a
multifocal radiance of blue, red, and white light rays swirling
infinitely around the infinite communion of you all, become OM
AH HUM, the body, speech, and mind of all Enlightened Ones.
You celebrate the inconceivability of the perfect integration of
your deep blue ultimate unborn primal oneness, your deep red allembracing communicating artistry, and your diamond white
interreflecting individuating manifestation.
The “presence-habit” is the deepest level of misknowing
conceptualization, which maintains the sense of “being here now”
as something or someone finite, apart from the inconceivable
Buddhaverse, supporting addictive and objective instincts of selfpreservation, and blocking awareness of the primal bliss-wisdom
indivisible of the eternal reality of enlightenment.
This prayer is the first of the four frequently mentioned as a
set throughout the Natural Liberation literature. It can be used
when you are confronting your own death, the death of another,
or just in general when you intensify your spiritual practice by the
remembrance of death. The parts to be recited aloud are set in
boldface type. The first syllable, OM, is the mantric sound that
functions as the invocation of the presence of all the infinite
numbers of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas throughout the infinite
This is to be performed at the time of one’s own death, or whenever else, this prayer for
help from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. First one should make offerings to the Three
Jewels, either physically or imaginatively. Hold incense in your hand, and speak with
strong intensity.
Here you call upon the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as
messianic heroes or heroines who live only to liberate all beings
from suffering. You are invoking the most advanced Bodhisattvas,
who are very highly evolved, close to Buddhahood, and have the
same powers of intervention as gods or angels. Some of them,
such as Avalokitcshvara, the Lord of Compassion, or Tara, the
goddess of miracles, are actually Buddhas already, but have
vowed to help beings by appearing as Bodhisattvas.
The Three Jewels are the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha
Jewels, the precious Teacher, Teaching, and Community, which
provide refuge from the unenlightened life cycle and its horrors;
thus they are considered jewels of the greatest value for suffering
For these prayers referring to a specific person, the reader in a
specific situation will have to supply the name of the person and
the gender for the pronouns. I will use the feminine, just to vary
the usual assumption.
O ten directions’ Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, compassionate, all-knowing, allseeing, all-loving—you are the refuge of beings! By the power of your
compassion, please come to this place! Please accept these physical and visualized
offerings! You compassionate ones command inconceivable all-knowing wisdom,
miraculous deeds performed with loving compassion, and power to give refuge! O
you compassionate ones, this person named S o-and-so is going from this world to
the beyond, leaving this world, making the great migration. S he has no friend.
S he has great suffering, no refuge, no protector, and no allies. Her perception of
this life is declining. S he is going to another life-realm, entering a thick
darkness, falling into a great abyss, and getting lost in a dense forest. S he is
driven by the power of evolution, going into a vast wilderness, swept off by a huge
ocean. S he is blown away by the wind of evolution, going to a place without firm
ground, entering a vast battleground. S he is being seized by a great devil,
terrified by the messengers of Yama. S he is going from one evolutionary
existence to another, without any power of her own. The time has come when she
must go, friendless and alone. Therefore, may you compassionate ones please
give refuge to this helpless one named S o-and-so! Protect her! Be her ally! S ave
her from the great darkness of the between! Hold her back from the harsh red
wind of evolution! S ave her from the great terror of Yama! Deliver her from the
great long straits of the between! O compassionate ones, don’t hold back on your
compassion! Help her! Don’t let her fall into the three horrid states! Don’t waver
from your ancient vows! Extend your compassion power! O Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas, enfold this one named S o-and-so with your compassionate art and
power! Look after her with compassion! Don’t abandon her to the power of
negative evolution! I strongly pray that you Three Jewels save her from the
suffering of the between!
You and others should recite this three times with sincere faith. Then you should use the
prayers Deliverance from the Straits of the Between and Refuge from All Terrors of the
This Prayer for Help from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will not be exhausted until
the life cycle is empty. SAM AYA!
The “messengers of Yama” are the wraithlike minions of
Yama, the Indian and Tibetan Lord of Death. The belief is that
these fearsome creatures, often with Indian buffalo heads, come
upon your soul at the moment of death and drag you away into
the nether region where Yama resides. There you are judged,
your good and evil deeds are weighed, and your next life in the six
realms of beings is determined.
The life cycle is called samsara; it is the state of existence of
any being who is not completely enlightened. It becomes empty
only when all beings have been liberated, when all have become
Buddhas. Since the number of beings is infinite, this will take
infinitely long, when thought of in a linear way. Since enlightenment
is the realization of the infinity of time and the ultimate unreality of
all moments of time, the life cycle empties itself in the realization of
each enlightened being. It is not to be taken too literally.
“SAMAYA” in Sanskrit literally means “vow.” It is often
uttered after a text considered esoteric, or one in which strong
determination is manifested, as a seal of that determination.
This Prayer for Deliverance, the following Prayer for
Refuge, and the Root Verses almost flow together as one prayer.
This first prayer summarizes the elements of existence personified
as deities: the five Buddha-clans, which represent the five
wisdoms, the Scientist deities, and the fierce deities. It calls on
them for deliverance, focusing upon the transmutation of the five
poisons of ignorance, lust, hate, pride, and envy. The verses
follow the sequence of the experiences of the reality between. The
verses are recited for the between-being in the text. A person
preparing for the transition would do well to memorize them.
Homage to the host of Mentors, Archetypes, and Angels!
Please guide me on the path with your great love!
When I roam the life cycle driven by sheer error,
May the Oral Transmission Mentors lead me on the path
Of unwavering light of learning, thought, and meditation!
And may their consort host of Angels back me on the way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
When I roam the life cycle driven by strong delusion,
May the Lord Vairochana lead me on the path
Of the clear light of reality-perfection wisdom!
May his Consort Buddha Dhatvishvari back me on the way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
When I roam the life cycle driven by strong hate,
May the Lord Vajrasattva lead me on the path
Of the clear light of the mirror wisdom!
May his Consort Buddhalochana back me on the way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
When I roam the life cycle driven by strong pride,
May the Lord Ratnasambhava lead me on the path
Of the clear light of the equalizing wisdom!
May his Consort Buddha Mamaki back me on the way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
When I roam the life cycle driven by strong passion,
May the Lord Amitabha lead me on the path
Of the clear light of discriminating wisdom!
May his Consort Buddha Pandaravasini back me on the way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
When I roam the life cycle driven by strong envy,
May the Lord Amoghasiddhi lead me on the path
Of the clear light of the all-accomplishing wisdom!
May his Consort Buddha S amayatara back me on the way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
The following verse is quoted in the text of the reality
between, but not included in the versions of this prayer I have
encountered so far. It takes the five poisons, five Buddhas and
Consorts, and five wisdoms all together.
When I roam the life cycle driven by the five strong poisons,
May the Lord Victors of the five clans lead me on the path
Of the clear light of the four wisdoms in combination!
May the five Consort Buddhas back me on the way,
And deliver me from the impure lights of the six realms!
Delivering me from the dangerous straits of the between,
May they carry me to the five supreme pure lands!
When I roam the life cycle driven by strong instincts,
May the Hero S cientists lead me on the path
Of the clear light of orgasmic wisdom!
May their best consort Angel host support me from behind,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
Vidyadhara in Sanskrit literally means “knowledge-holder,”
and is translated here as Hero Scientist. They are the mindscientists of ancient India and Tibet. They do not wear white coats
and their laboratories are in the inner realms, accessed through the
mastery of the mind and its faculties. But they have been the
quintessential scientists of that nonmaterialist civilization.
I translate the Tibetan lhan skyes (the Sanskrit sahaja), which
literally means “produced by connection,” as “orgasm,” or
adjectivally as “orgasmic.” It is often translated “innate” or
“natural,” but these terms are too general. It specifically refers to
that great bliss of the melting of self-habits arising from the
realization of selflessness, a bliss whose mundane metaphor is
sexual bliss. “Orgasmic” may shock at first, but it is exactly on
target for this ordinary life-and-death transcending totalization of
orgasmic bliss by the inconceivable wisdom of selflessness.
When I roam the life cycle driven by strong hallucinations,
May the host of mild and fierce Lords lead me on the path
Of the light that conquers terrifying visions of hate and fear!
May the space-goddess Angel hosts back me on the way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
Hey! May the space elements not arise as enemies,
And may I behold the realm of the sapphire Buddha!
May the water elements not arise as enemies,
And may I see the realm of the diamond Buddha!
May the earth elements not arise as enemies,
And may I behold the realm of the golden Buddha!
May the fire elements not arise as enemies,
And may I behold the realm of the ruby Buddha!
May the wind elements not arise as enemies,
And may I behold the realm of the emerald Buddha!
May the rainbow elements not arise as enemies,
And may I behold the realm of the rainbow Buddha!
May sounds, lights, and rays not arise as enemies,
And may I behold the magnificent realm of the mild and fierce Lords!
May I know all sounds as my own sounds!
May I know all lights as my own lights!
May I know all rays as my own rays!
May I know the between’s reality as mine!
And may I realize the realm of the Three Buddha Bodies!
This prayer is a general appeal to the various deities one might
appeal to for refuge in the death transition. It does not follow
closely the pattern of the visions in the reality between, but rather
rehearses elements generally involved in the whole process,
prepares the between-being for the difficulties of the experience,
and confirms the feeling of refuge extending on into future lives in
all situations. It should likewise best be memorized by people
preparing to guide their own death.
Hey! When the impulse of my lifespan is worn out,
As dear ones cannot help beyond this world
And I must wander alone in the between,
May Buddhas mild and fierce exert the force of their compassion
And clear the dense fog of darkness of misknowledge!
Now that I wander alone, apart from my loved ones,
And all my visions are but empty images,
May the Buddhas exert the force of their compassion
And stop the fear and hate-drawn terrors of the between!
When the five lights of brilliant wisdom dawn,
Fearlessly, bravely, may I know them as myself!
When the forms of the Lords mild and fierce arise,
Bold and fearless, may I recognize the between!
Now when I suffer by the power of negative evolution,
May the Archetype Deities dispel that suffering!
When reality crashes with a thousand thunders,
May they all become OM MANI PADME HUM!
When I’m pulled by evolution without recourse,
May the Lords mild and fierce dispel my suffering!
When I suffer due to evolutionary instincts,
May the clear-light bliss samadhi dawn upon me!
When I’m born by apparition in the existence between,
May evil prophecies of perverse devils not come true!
When I arrive wherever by the power of thought,
May fears created by negative evolution not occur!
When wild beasts of prey roar savagely,
May it become the Dharma sound—OM MANI PADME HUM!
When I am driven by snow, rain, wind, and darkness,
May I find the divine vision of brilliant wisdom!
May all beings, compatible types in the between,
Avoid all rivalry and find rebirth in high estates!
When I am hungry and thirsty from intense addictions,
May I not suffer real hunger, thirst, heat, and cold!
When I behold the coupling of my next life’s father and mother,
May I see them as the Lord of Compassion Father-Mother themselves!
Free consciously to choose my birth, then for the sake of others
May I obtain the best body adorned with the signs and marks!
Here the prayer refers to the practice of visualizing the
parental couple that all between-beings behold in the process of
being reborn in mammalian embodiments—as the Lord of
Compassion, Avalokiteshvara, and his consort, the female
Buddha Tara. The expression “Father-Mother” (Tib., yah yum) is
commonly used in Tantric contexts to refer to a Buddha-deity
couple in the sexual union pose.
Having obtained for myself the finest body living,
May all who see or hear me swiftly be delivered!
Not pursuing any negative evolutions
May I follow and develop all my existing merits!
Wherever I am born in every life to come,
May I meet again my Archetype Deity of this life!
S peaking and understanding the moment I am born,
May I have the retention to remember my former lives!
Knowledge great and small, average and various,
May I understand it just by hearing it or seeing it!
May good luck prevail in the land wherein I’m born,
And may all beings be endowed with happiness!
You Victors mild and fierce, as are your bodies,
Your retinues, lifespans, and your pure worlds,
And your superior auspicious signs of greatness—
May I and all others become just like you!
By the vast compassion of the All-Goods mild and fierce,
By the power of the truth of reality-perfection,
And by the blessing of Tantric adepts’ single-minded success—
May I accomplish just what I have prayed for!
These Root Verses summarize the six betweens, each verse
formulating the insights and resolves that arc keys to the
successful redirection of each being away from the continuing lifecycle between, toward liberation and enlightenment.
Hey! Now when the life between dawns upon me,
I will abandon laziness, as life has no more time,
Unwavering, enter the path of learning, thinking, and meditating,
And taking perceptions and mind as path,
I will realize the Three Bodies of enlightenment!
This once that I have obtained the human body
Is not the time to stay on the path of distractions.
Hey! Now when the dream between dawns upon me,
I will give up corpselike sleeping in delusion,
And mindfully enter unwavering the experience of reality.
Conscious of dreaming, I will enjoy the changes as clear light.
Not sleeping mindlessly like an animal,
I will cherish the practice merging sleep and realization!
Hey! Now when the meditation between dawns upon me,
I will abandon the host of distracting errors,
Focus in extreme-free experience, without releasing or controlling,
And achieve stability in the creation and perfection stages!
Giving up business, now one-pointed in meditation,
I won’t surrender to the power of erroneous addictions!
Hey! Now when the death-point between dawns upon me,
I will give up the preoccupations of the all-desiring mind,
Enter unwavering the experience of the clarity of the precepts,
And transmigrate into the birthless space of inner awareness;
About to lose this created body of flesh and blood,
I will realize it to be impermanent illusion!
Hey! Now when the reality between dawns upon me,
I will let go of the hallucinations of instinctive terror,
Enter the recognition of all objects as my mind’s own visions,
And understand this as the pattern of perception in the between;
Come to this moment, arrived at this most critical cessation,
I will not fear my own visions of deities mild and fierce!
Hey! Now when the existence between dawns upon me,
I will hold my will with mind one-pointed,
And increase forcefully the impulse of positive evolution;
Blocking the womb door, I will remember to be revulsed.
Now courage and positive perception are essential;
I will give up envy, and contemplate all couples
As my S piritual Mentor, Father and Mother.
“With mind distracted, never thinking, ‘Death is coming,’
To slave away on the pointless business of mundane life,
And then to come out empty—it is a tragic error.
Recognition of necessity is the holy teaching of the gods,
S o won’t you live this divine truth from now on?”
These are the words of the great adepts.
If you don’t put the Mentor’s precept in your mind,
Won’t you be the one who deceives yourself?
O Amitabha, boundless light of the Truth Body,
O mild and fierce Beatific Body Lotus Deities,
O Padma S ambhava, incarnate savior of beings—
I bow to the Three Bodies in the S piritual Mentors!
The Sanskrit name “Amitabha” means “boundless light.” He is
the Buddha of the western Buddhaverse known as Sukhavati, and
the Lord of the Lotus Clan of Tantric archetype deities. In this
invocation, he is associated with the Truth Body, the aspect of
Buddhahood associated with ultimate reality. The Lotus Deities
themselves are associated with the Beatific Body, the subjective,
transcendent wisdom aspect of Buddhahood, and Padma
Sambhava represents the Incarnational Emanation Body. Thus the
practitioner salutes at the outset the spiritual teachers as
embodiments of the Three Bodies of Buddhahood. In this spot,
modern practitioners should substitute an invocation of whatever
trinity, duality, or unity they hold most sacred and helps them feel
most comfortable and secure.
This Great Natural Liberation Through Understanding is the art that liberates average
practitioners when they go through the between state.
Implementing the practical instructions that teach the art of liberating beings, those of
greatest ability will surely be liberated. If they are not, they should practice the Natural
Liberation Through Soul-transmission in the death-point between.
“Soul-transmission” (Tibetan, ‘pho-ba) is a contemplative
practice through which advanced yogis and yoginis can voluntarily
leave their bodies by ejecting their subtlest consciousness out of
the top of their heads and transmitting it into a Buddhaverse, or
pure land. They learn to do this by receiving initiation into this art,
then practicing through long retreats the alignment of
consciousness and the subtle neural energies. The Natural
Liberation mentioned is a version of this practice associated with
our text, not usually published because it would be dangerous to
practice without initiation.
The practitioners of average ability will surely be liberated by that. If they are not,
they should strive to implement this Great Natural Liberation Through Understanding
during the reality between.
To that end, first you should examine the situation with a systematic death analysis,
according to the Natural Liberation through Death Signs.
This Natural Liberation is published with our text. It
provides a lore of omens, dream interpretation, and medical
insight that helps a person foresee the danger of death in specific
When the signs of death are clearly complete, you should employ the Natural
Liberation Through Soul-transmission. If soul-transmission succeeds, it is unnecessary
to read this Book of Natural Liberation. If it does not succeed, you should read this Book
of Natural Liberation clearly and distinctly, sitting beside the body. If the body is gone,
then you should sit at the bed or seat of the deceased. You should invoke the power of
truth, summon the soul, visualize the deceased as sitting in front of you listening, and
read this Book of Natural Liberation. During that procedure, it would be very disturbing
if the loved ones and relatives were to weep and lament. They should be quieted. If the
body is still there, during the time when the outer breath has ceased but the inner breath
has not, the dead person’s teacher, fellow disciple, or trusted and beloved relative or
friend, should read this Book of Natural Liberation with lips not quite touching the ear.
It is not necessary, in fact it would be confusing, to read aloud
for the deceased the many instructions intended for the readers of
the Book of Natural Liberation. Thus, you should read aloud
the indented sections set in boldface type. The instruction parts of
the text tell you how and when to read them.
You should make extensive offerings to the Three Jewels. If you cannot afford it, you
should set up whatever symbolic offering you can afford and then visualize limitless
offerings. You should then recite three or seven times the prayer Help from the Buddhas
and Bodhisattvas. Then you should accurately and melodiously recite the prayers Refuge
from All Terrors of the Between and Deliverance from the Straits of the Between, and the
Root Verses of the Six Betweens. Then you should read seven times or three times, or as
the occasion permits, this Great Book of Natural Liberation Through Understanding in
the Between.
The “Three Jewels” are the Buddha, his Teaching, and the
Holy Community. The text is recommending setting up an altar
with an icon or statue of the Buddha and perhaps a copy of a
Buddhist book to represent the teaching. Offerings consist of
water in little cups, flowers, incense, a candle or other light, and
so on. Even without any physical objects, you can visualize a
whole arrangement, offering universes full of things of beauty to all
enlightened beings. If you or the deceased have a different
religion, set up an icon, symbol, or text that represents the sacred,
and think of offerings traditional in that religion. If you or the
deceased have no religion, think of a favorite environment of the
deceased and adorn it symbolically or imaginatively in a way that
would please and attract the deceased. The prayers mentioned
are included in chapter 5.
The clear light is an indescribable transparency, a light that is
omnidirectionally illuminating yet beyond the brightness of sun or
moon and also beyond dimness or darkness. The text uses the
terminology of “betweens” in a somewhat confusing way. This
section is called the Prayer of the Reality Between. The “deathpoint between” is also one of the six main betweens, considered
different from the “reality between.” The death-point between
again is divided into two betweens, one called “reality clear-light”
death between and the other unnamed. The first occurs when the
deceased’s consciousness is still held within the central channel of
the deceased’s subtle nervous system, while the second occurs
just after the consciousness has left the body through any path
other than the crown of the head. So I have called these two the
“central channel reality clear-light death-point between” and the
“out-of-body reality clear-light death-point between.” Both of
these occur quite soon after the cessation of breathing, the first
immediately after. They are extremely crucial times, when you
wish to intervene to assist someone to have a successful deathtransition, ideally into a state of conscious liberation, or at least
into a positive, enlightenment-oriented realm, such as a
Buddhaverse or pure land. For at the death point every being,
especially a human being, has the ideal opportunity to discover
real freedom from addictive habits, delusive perceptions, and
misleading conceptions. Therefore, in Tibetan culture it is
considered important to help a loved one through the actual
process of death, to avoid distracting and frightening places such
as hospital emergency rooms, and to arrange circumstances
where the assistants can stay with the body at least for some
For the sake of clarity, I have omitted from the translation the
Tibetan subject headings, which enumerate topics far ahead in the
text to orient the reader.
The Central Channel Reality Clear Light
“Between” is used in at least three senses here, which causes
a slight confusion. It is used in its basic colloquial sense of the
whole period between death and rebirth. It is used in its technical
sense in “between yoga,” in the main set of the six betweens, life,
dream, meditation, death-point, reality, and existence betweens,
where the last three are subdivisions of the colloquial “between.”
And it is used in this text in the sense of “phase of a between,”
where the experience of a particular period in one of the six
betweens is itself called a between. Thus, in the death-point
between, there are the two clear light betweens; and in the reality
between, there are the mild deity between and the fierce deity
between, each of these being divided again into several days. I
have simplified this by calling the third usage a “between phase,”
and by occasionally omitting the casual use of the term.
You should use this Natural Liberation with all types of persons—some who have
good understanding but have not yet recognized the clear light, some who have
recognized it but have not developed that recognition with practice, and even some
ordinary egocentric individuals who lack any instruction. Once they recognize the
objective clear light, they will attain the birthless Body of Truth by the straight upward
path without going through any between.
The power of the teaching of this Natural Liberation is
noted here. The consciousness is so flexible in the between state
that the mere understanding of reality can transform the whole
structure of delusion and liberation can occur instantaneously.
As for the use of this Natural Liberation: it is best if you can bring (to the bedside)
the main mentor of the deceased, from whom he has received instructions. If you cannot
bring her, then spiritual brothers or sisters with the same commitments will do. If they
cannot come, then a spiritual teacher of the same spiritual lineage will do. If he cannot
come, then any person who can read this text accurately and distinctly should read it
many times. When the deceased is reminded in this way of the mentor’s description,
there is no doubt that she will recognize the objective clear light and will instantly be
The Tibetan language rarely uses pronouns during such
instructions, since the third person subject is included in the verbal
form, without differentiating the gender of the person. While it is
true that male spiritual teachers are more numerous in Tibet, there
are female mentors, or lamas, as well. And of course death is no
respecter of gender, and the deceased is as often female as male.
If I simply use the male pronoun all the time in English, it makes
the Tibetan seem more sexist than it is. If I use “he or she,” “him
or her” all the time, it makes the flow of the language clumsy. So I
have chosen to alternate male and female pronouns loosely when
giving general third-person descriptions.
As for the time to use the Natural Liberation: after the outer breath ceases, the neural
winds dissolve into the wisdom central channel and the consciousness arises distinctly as
the unfabricating clear light. That is when the Natural Liberation should be used, before
the winds reverse themselves and escape through the right and left channels, and the
visions of the between arise invitingly. After the outer breath has ceased, the inner breath
remains (within the central channel) just for the time it takes to eat a meal.
Again, as for how to use it: it is best if one can succeed in soul-ejection when the
breath is just about to cease. If this does not succeed, you should say this:
Hey! Noble one, you named S o-and-so! Now the time has come for you to seek
the way. Just as your breath stops, the objective clear light of the first between
will dawn as previously described to you by your teacher. Your outer breath stops
and you experience reality stark and void like space, your immaculate naked
awareness dawning clear and void without horizon or center. At that instant, you
yourself must recognize it as yourself, you must stay with that experience. I will
describe it again to you at that moment.
The standard instruction for recognizing the clear light is as
just given. The Natural Liberation Through Naked Vision in
chapter 8 is a much fuller description of this type. Awareness is
clear and contentless, infinite and stripped of all structures,
seeming free of all point of subjectivity or sense of objectivity. The
difficulty of recognition comes from the habit-momentum of feeling
present as a subjective perspective, hence feeling fear or faint at
losing the sense of holding on. That is why the instruction urges
the deceased to identify with the infinite transparency, to recognize
it as the essential selfless self.
Before his (outer) breath ceases, you should repeat this in his ear many times, in order
to plant it firmly in his mind. Then when the outer breath is just at the point of
stopping, place him in the lion posture, his right side on the ground, and squeeze the
pulsing waves in the blood vessels (of the neck). Press them strongly, cutting off
pulsation in the two sleep channels (in the neck). Then the winds will enter the central
channel and will not be able to reverse, and his soul will definitely exit up the path of the
Clearly, judging the moment exactly right as the breath ceases
is a very tricky business, requiring an expert touch and timing, not
to be casually attempted by anyone. The “Brahma-hole” is where
the soft fontanelle aperture is located on the fore of the crown of
the head. The soul embodied in the subtle energy life-drop exits
there through understanding the Natural Liberation, in the same
way it ejects in the practice of soul-ejection.
Then one should again read the description. This moment is called the “first between
reality clear light.” An unerring realization of the Body of Truth arises in the process of
all beings. Further, during the time the inner breath abides after the outer breath stops,
the winds are dissolved into the central channel. Ordinary persons call this “loss of
consciousness.” Its duration is uncertain, depending on the quality of the individual’s life
and her degree of cultivation of the neural winds and channels. It can abide for a long time
in those who have considerable practice, stable quiescence, or highly cultivated channels.
For such persons you should read the description repeatedly to increase their
determination, until lymph oozes from their sense apertures. For those who are great
sinners or have blocked channels, this time will last no longer than a finger snap. For
some others it will last the time of eating a meal. Since most philosophical and yogic
scriptures state that deceased persons stay unconscious for four and a half days, they
will usually remain (in and around their central channels) for that length of time; so you
should persist in describing the clear light for them.
As for how to do it: if the deceased has the ability, she should develop her resolve
from beforehand. If she cannot do it herself, then her teacher, her disciple, her spiritual
brothers or sisters, or like-minded friends should sit nearby her. They should then
pronounce the signs of dissolution in order.
Now this mirage you see is the sign of earth dissolving in water. This smoke is
the sign of water dissolving into fire. These fireflies are the sign of fire dissolving
into wind. This candle flame is the sign of wind dissolving into consciousness.
This moonlit sky is the sign of consciousness dissolving into luminance. This
sunlit sky is the sign of luminance dissolving into radiance. This dark sky is the
sign of radiance dissolving into imminence. This predawn twilight sky is the sign
of imminence dissolving into clear light.
The text only mentions “the signs of mirage and so forth.” I
have restored the full description of the eight subjective signs of
the eight dissolutions because these signs are so important for the
deceased to recognize, giving her a sense of orientation in a new
and strange realm of unfamiliar experiences.
When those signs are about to culminate, you should remind the deceased of his
conception of the spirit of enlightenment. If the deceased is a spiritual teacher, you
should gently say:
Venerable teacher! Please act on your spiritual conception without wavering.
I translate the Sanskrit bodhichitta as “spirit of
enlightenment,” and bodhicittotpada as “spiritual conception.” It
is the spiritual attitude that distinguishes a bodhisattva, a messianic
hero or heroine who lives to save all others from suffering. It is a
messianic resolve to become perfectly enlightened in order to be
capable of saving others from suffering and bringing them to
happiness. It is, for a bodhisattva, the logical outcome of love and
compassion toward beings, combined with the wisdom about
their real situation and about the infinite horizon of
interconnectedness between self and others. Tibetan psychology
considers paradoxically that this selfless attitude is the best
guarantee of a good destiny for the self. Hence it is crucial to
remind the deceased of his or her spiritual conception at this
If the deceased is a spiritual companion or any other person, call him by name and say
the following:
Hey, noble one! Now you have arrived at so-called “death,” so you should
conduct yourself according to your conception of the spirit of enlightenment. You
should conceive your spirit of enlightenment thus: “Alas! I have arrived at the
time of death. From now, relying on this death, I will develop my spirit only by
contemplating the conception of the spirit of enlightenment of love and
compassion. For the sake of the whole space-full of beings, I must attain perfect
Buddhahood.” And especially you should think, “Now for the sake of all beings, I
will recognize the death clear light as the Body of Truth. Within its experience, I
will attain the supreme accomplishment of the Great S eal, and I will accomplish
the purposes of all beings. If I don’t attain that, then in the time of the between, I
will recognize it as the between. I will realize that between as the Great S eal
Body of Integration, and I will accomplish the purposes of all the infinite spacefull of beings by manifesting whatsoever is needed to tame whomsoever.” Thus
never losing the willpower of that spiritual conception, you should remember the
experience of whatever instructions you have previously practiced.
I render the Sanskrit mahamudra as “Great Seal.” This
expression refers to ultimate reality as the ultimate lover,
experiencing voidness as a total mental and physical union
between oneself as orgasmic bliss with the impassioned consort of
the infinitely expansive intimate wisdom of universal voidness.
Like the expression “Great Perfection,” it refers to the ultimate as
approached by the most advanced adept of Tantric contemplative
This should be clearly enunciated with the lips near the ear. In this way, not allowing
even an instant’s distraction, you should pray for the deceased to accomplish this
Then, when the outer breath has ceased, you should press the sleep channels (at the
neck) forcefully and say the following; first, to a spiritual teacher or spiritual superior:
Venerable teacher! Right now the objective clear light dawns for you. Recognize
it! Please incorporate it within your experience.
You should describe it to all others as follows:
Hey, noble one, you named S o-and-so, listen here! Now the pure clear light of
reality dawns for you. Recognize it! Hey, noble one, this, your present conscious
natural clear void awareness, this presence in clear voidness without any
objectivity of substance, sign, or color—just this is the reality, the Mother,
Buddha All-around Goodness! And this, your conscious awareness natural
voidness, not succumbing to a false annihilative voidness, just your own conscious
awareness, unceasing, bright, distinct, and vibrant—just this awareness is the
Father, Buddha All-around Goodness! Just this presence of the indivisibility of
your awareness’s naturally insubstantial voidness and the vibrant bright presence
of your conscious awareness—just this is the Buddha Body of Truth. Your
awareness thus abides in this vast mass of light of clarity-void indivisible. You are
free of birth or death—just this is the Buddha Changeless Light. It is enough just
to recognize this. Recognizing this your own conscious awareness’s purity nature
as the Buddha, yourself beholding your own awareness—that is to dwell in the
inner realization of all Buddhas.
“All-around Goodness” translates the Sanskrit name
Samantabhadra, with its male and female forms. All-around
Goodness is the famous divine bodhisattva of the Flower
Garland Sutra, the Samantabhadra who has developed the
interpenetrating samadhi so highly that he can multiply all his good
actions infinitely throughout the micro- and macrocosms, for
example consciously bowing in miniature subatomic bodies in
subatomic universes to subatomic Buddhas at the same moment
he bows in the ordinary universe to the Buddha before him. The
Buddhas Samantabhadra Father and Mother represent the
inconceivable ultimate dimension itself, the Body of Truth, the
experience of which is the eternally blissful union of blissawareness and transparent reality-voidness. The identification
given here resembles the expressions of the Word Initiation, the
“Great Fourth Initiation,” considered the highest of the esoteric
initiations in the Unexcelled Yoga Tantras. The nature of the reality
evoked is such that it is not created, not attainable by any effort,
because it is never lost, it has been beginninglessly present to
enlightened awareness. Thus there is no progression into the
realization of its presence. One is instantly liberated by the mere
understanding of the identification.
You should repeat this three or seven times, clearly and correctly. With the first
repetition, the deceased will remember her spiritual teacher’s previous description. With
the second repetition, she will recognize her own naked awareness as the clear light. With
the third repetition, recognizing her nature, she will become the Body of Truth, free of
union and separation, and will definitely be liberated. Thus recognizing the first clear
light, the deceased will be liberated.
The Out-of-Body Reality Clear Light
However, if one doubts and does not recognize the first clear light, again the “second
clear light” dawns. As for its timing, it comes a little longer after the outer breath has
ceased than it takes to eat a meal. By the good or bad impulses of evolution, the wind is
released into either the right or left channel and escapes through one or the other bodily
aperture; then consciousness emerges in the clear path of the between. Again, though the
time is described as “the time it takes to eat a meal,” this depends on the nature of the
deceased’s channels, and their degree of cultivation.
At this point, the deceased feels his consciousness emerge out of the body, but he
does not recognize the situation, worrying instead, “Have I died or not?” He still feels as
if connected with his loved ones. He hears their weeping. Before his intense evolutionary
hallucinations arise and his full terror of death arrives, you should again use the
instructions. There are various versions, those for the perfection-stage practitioner and
those for the creation-stage practitioner. For the perfection-stage practitioner, you call
him by name three times and then repeat the clear light orientation just given above. If he
is a creation-stage practitioner, you should read the meditation literature and the
visualization practice of whichever was his Archetype Deity. Then pray as follows:
Remember that you arc still at the bedside of the deceased,
whose consciousness now has emerged from his body and is
floating precariously around the room. This period probably
begins around a half an hour after the breath has completely
stopped and can continue for several days. In Tibetan culture,
therefore, it is considered desirable to keep the body without
disposal for several days, though this is impossible in warm
climates due to decomposition. The bodies of highly adept lamas
are often reported to stay sitting immobile for several days,
without decomposing in a normal way. The perfection-stage
practitioner has cultivated the energy channels of the subtle
nervous system, untangled its knots, and developed a familiarity
with subtle interior and out-of-body states. So the clear light is
directly identified for him or her. The creation-stage practitioner
has developed strong expertise in visualization, and the Archetype
Deities and their mandala sacred environments are highly familiar,
their forms and structures having subliminally cultivated the winds,
channels, and drops of awareness. So for them, the instructions
should bring them back to the Archetype Deities with which they
feel secure and open.
Hey, noble one! Meditate on this your Archetype Deity! Don’t be distracted!
Aim your intense willpower toward your Archetype Deity! Meditate it as apparent
but realityless like the moon in water! Don’t meditate it as material!
If the deceased is an ordinary person, orient her as follows:
Meditate on the Lord of Great Compassion!
The ordinary person here means one who has no systematic
practice of either visualization or transformation into altered states
of physical energies or consciousness. However, her participation
in a culture is itself a visualization and transformation process, a
routinization of imagination and perception. If she is religious, her
long-term familiarity with a particular god, goddess, savior, or
prophet will make that being into an archetype deity for her. If she
is not religious, her familiarity with specific political leaders,
celebrities, national symbols, or other persons or places will have
turned them into archetypes or mandalas for her. The text invokes
the Lord of Great Compassion, the archangelic Bodhisattva
Avalokiteshvara, the Savior figure for any participant in Tibetan
culture, a powerful deity who looks out for all living creatures,
helping them avoid suffering and discover happiness. You may
prefer to invoke Jesus here, or Moses, Muhammad, Krishna, or
Wakan Tanka, Odin, Zeus, or the Great Mother in any of her
myriad forms. Any archetype of sacredness, any compassionate
personification or representation of ultimate reality, here serves to
make the soul’s consciousness feel secure and integrated with the
gracious presence of sacred ultimacy. This is necessary for her not
to fear any hallucinations or startling happenings, and to move
toward positive destinies. It is also considered that the imagined
figure of any of these great saviors serves as an icon to focus
awareness to make the soul receptive to the active compassion of
those beings themselves.
Thus orienting them, there is no doubt that even those who have never recognized the
between will recognize it. Further, those who in life had a mentor describe the between to
them, but gained only slight familiarity through practice, will not by themselves be able
to become lucid in the between. They must have a spiritual teacher, loved one, or friend
evoke it for them. And those who are likely to be reborn in the horrid states, who
previously gained familiarity with and insight into the path, but then lost their vows or
destroyed their basic commitment, for them this is extremely necessary.
The consequences of breaking vows and commitments on the
part of one who has achieved some degree of insight into the path
are very grave. This is not because of some punitive tendency in
the tradition. It rather is due to the fact that one who enters the
path to some degree begins to attain a level of freedom from inner
instinctual drivenness and becomes more open. Their potential life
energy thus becomes more malleable and flexible, as their horizon
opens all the way to Buddhahood and evolutionary perfection. If
they then get radically turned around toward evil or “the dark
side,” as it were, their expanded horizon has now come to include
extremely negative, hellish states, and they may find themselves in
great danger.
If the deceased succeeds in understanding in the first between, it is best. If he has not
succeeded, then when reality is evoked in the second between, awareness is awakened
and he is liberated. Here, when instructed in the second between, his awareness,
previously unsure if he has died or not, suddenly becomes clear; this is called the
“impure magic body” state. At that time, if the instruction succeeds, mother and child
realities meet and evolution loses its power over him. It is like sunlight conquering the
darkness. The path clear light conquers the power of evolution and he is liberated.
The magic body, remember, is the consciously constructed,
dream-bodylike, subtle energy body created on the third stage of
the perfection stage. Here, due to the power of the teaching, the
evolutionarily constructed subtle body of the between-state is
transformed by instantaneous clarity of understanding into the
third stage impure magic body. This intense acceleration of
evolution toward Buddhahood is possible because of the great
malleability and transformability of the soul and its subtle
embodiment in the between state. The “mother reality” is the
objective clear light, the actual transparency of ultimate reality
directly experienced beyond the subject-object dichotomy, called
“mother” because of her being the matrix of all possibility. The
“child reality” is the semblant clear light, transparency still filtered
through conceptuality, targeted by an accurate conceptual
understanding, retaining still an instinctive sense of subjectivity and
objectivity. It is the level of clear light experience that fits with the
impure magic body presence. When it develops into the mother
clear light, the magic body becomes purified, the supreme union
between father magic body and mother clear light becoming the
unexcelled Integration, the Great Seal, the Great Perfection—the
evolutionary consummation that is Buddhahood.
Once more, what is called the “second between” dawns suddenly before the mental
body; and the consciousness wanders within the range of hearing. At that time, if this
instruction is given, its aim will be achieved. At this moment, the evolutionary
hallucinations have not dawned, and he is capable of any sort of transformation. Thus
even if he failed to recognize the objective clear light, still he can recognize the second
between clear light and so can reach liberation.
Each between phase and day begins with the suggestion that
one carry on with the reading of the Book of Natural Liberation
in case the deceased is still not liberated. Each previous section
has ended with statements about how surely the deceased will be
liberated by the understanding of the preceding instruction. An
expert lama or spiritual mentor, one with direct clairvoyance, is
considered easily able to monitor the progress of the soul of the
deceased. The rest of us should probably keep going, preferring
to err on the side of overdoing than failing to provide an
opportunity for the deceased.
If the deceased is still not liberated, it is then called the “third between phase.” The
reality between dawns. This becomes the third between, in which the evolutionary
hallucinations dawn. Therefore it is crucial to read this great orientation to the reality
between at that time, with its very great power and benefits. At that time, her loved ones
will weep and wail, her share of food is no longer served, her clothes are stripped off, her
bed is broken. She can see them, but they cannot see her. She can hear them calling her,
but they cannot hear when she calls them. So she must depart, her heart sinking in
despair. Perceptions arise of sounds, lights, and rays, and she feels faint with fear, terror,
and panic. Then you must use this great description of the reality between. You should
call the deceased by name, and clearly and distinctly say as follows:
Hey, noble one! Listen unwavering with intense concentration! There are six
kinds of between: the natural life between, the dream between, the contemplation
between, the death-point between, the reality between, and the emergent
existence between.
Hey, noble one, three betweens will dawn for you; the death-point between, the
reality between, and the existence between will dawn. Until yesterday, in the
death-point between, the reality clear light dawned. But you did not recognize it,
so you had to wander here. Now the reality between and the existence between
will dawn for you. As I describe them, you must recognize them without fail.
Hey, noble one! Now you have arrived at what is called “death.” You are going
from this world to the beyond. You are not alone; it happens to everyone. You
must not indulge in attachment and insistence on this life. Though you are
attached and you insist, you have no power to stay, you will not avoid wandering
in the life cycle. Do not lust! Do not cling! Be mindful of the Three Jewels!
Hey, noble child! Whatever terrifying visions of the reality between may dawn
upon you, you should not forget the following words. You must proceed
remembering in your mind the meaning of these words. Therein lies the key of
Hey! Now when the reality between dawns upon me,
I will let go of the hallucinations of instinctive terror,
Enter the recognition of all objects as my mind’s own visions,
And understand this as the pattern of perception in the between;
Come to this moment, arrived at this most critical cessation,
I will not fear my own visions of deities mild and fierce!
This verse comes from the Root Verses of the Six Betweens.
The deceased here has entered into the dreamlike world of the
between, and is not yet used to the ghostly senses of the between.
To his or her heightened sensitivity, sights and sounds can have a
startling intensity. Further, the underlying instincts can emerge from
the subconscious easily and quickly, and can color any experience
with intense moods, either of terror or joy. Our instincts are so
patterned after fear of harm and the expectation of pain that we
tend easily to paranoia. This fearful state in the between can itself
create distressing manifestations. Should we give ourselves to
such terrors, we would become more and more tied up in knots
of defensiveness, would close down our sensitivity more and
more, and would inevitably descend into the sea of patterns of
negativity. Therefore, the verse serves to remind us of the urgent
necessity not to give in to fear but to see through it and remain
open and at ease.
You should proceed clearly saying this verse aloud and remembering its
meaning. Do not forget this, as it is the key to recognizing whatever terrifying
visions dawn as certainly being your own perceptions.
Hey, noble one! At this time when your mind and body are parting ways, pure
reality manifests in subtle, dazzling visions, vividly experienced, naturally
frightening and worrisome, shimmering like a mirage on the plains in autumn.
Do not fear them. Do not be terrified! Do not panic! You have what is called an
“instinctual mental body,” not a material, flesh and blood body. Thus whatever
sounds, lights, and rays may come at you, they cannot hurt you. You cannot die. It
is enough just for you to recognize them as your own perceptions. Understand
that this is the between.
Hey, noble one! If you don’t recognize them as your own perceptions in this
way—whatever other meditations and achievements you may have experienced in
the human world, if you did not meet this particular instruction—the lights will
frighten you, the sounds will panic you, the rays will terrify you. If you don’t
know the key of this instruction, you will not recognize the sounds, lights, and
rays, and you will wander in the life cycle.
The text does not place this label here, beginning to label in
this way only below when it inserts “The Second Day.” I have
added it for clarity, and to keep you oriented in terms of your use
of the book in actual cases. Below it tells the deceased he has
been unconscious for four and a half days, precisely one hundred
and eight hours. The precise time does not matter so much, as
you can fruitfully read these between instructions on the days
immediately after death, and you can continue for up to forty-nine
In the day-sequences that follow, you reach into the mandala or
sacred environment of the universe as structured by the Buddha
wisdoms. You invoke those five wisdoms personified by the five
Lords of the Buddha-clans, Vairochana and so on (see figure 10,
this page). Each one emanates with qualities and attributes that
align with the elements and processes of the ordinary universe of
suffering, representing their transmutation into the Buddhaverse,
or pure-land reality, where love, compassion, bliss, and wisdom
are the dominant energies of life. Similarly, each manifestation
parallels the appearances of the six realms of worldly migration,
heavens, hells, and worlds of titans, humans, animals, and pretans.
This is in order to help souls not to seek embodiment in those
ordinary, driven life-states, but rather to bring them into a more
ideal, enlightenment-oriented environment where they can
proceed more swiftly toward liberation. In reading the sequences,
just try to imagine the general colors, lights, and overall qualities of
each archetype. Do not worry about trying to fix every detail in
exact order, or it can become distracting. Those who feel
uncomfortable with the Buddhist imagery should substitute in its
place the figures or symbols that give them comfort. For one
artist’s vision of the look of these five deities, and all of them in
tableau together, see color insert, plates 5, 6, 7, and 8.
Hey, noble one! Having fainted for four and a half days, you are now
proceeding. You have woken up with the worry, “What is happening to me?”
Recognize that you are in the between! Now, since the life cycle is in suspension,
all things dawn as lights and deities. All space dawns full of azure light. Now,
from the central Buddha-land, All-pervading Drop, the Lord Vairochana appears
before you, white bodied, sitting on a lion throne, holding in his hand an eightspoked wheel, united with his consort Akasha Dhatvishvari. The natural purity of
the consciousness aggregate, the blue light of the Reality Perfection wisdom, a
clear and vivid color blue, frighteningly intense, shines piercingly from the heart
center of this Vairochana couple, dazzling your eyes unbearably. S imultaneously
the soft white light of the gods shines upon you and penetrates you in parallel
with the bright blue light. At that time, influenced by negative evolution, you
panic and are terrified of that bright blue light of Reality Perfection wisdom and
you flee from it. And you feel a liking for the soft white light of the gods, and you
approach it. But you must not panic at that blue light, the clear, piercing,
brilliant, frightening supreme wisdom clear light! Do not fear it! It is the light
ray of the Transcendent Lord, the Reality Perfection wisdom. Feel attracted to it
with faith and reverence! Make it the answer to your prayer, thinking, “It is the
light ray of the compassion of Lord Vairochana—I must take refuge in it!” It is
the way Lord Vairochana comes to escort you through the straits of the between. It
is the light ray of the compassion of Vairochana. Don’t be enticed by the soft
white light of the gods. Don’t be attached to it! Don’t long for it! If you cling to it,
you will wander into the realm of the gods, and you will continue to cycle through
the six realms of driven existence. It is an obstacle to cessation, the path of
freedom. S o don’t look upon it, but be devoted to the brilliant penetrating blue
light, aim your intense willpower toward Vairochana, and repeat after me the
following prayer:
When I roam the life cycle driven by strong delusion,
May the Lord Vairochana lead me on the path
Of the clear light of reality-perfection wisdom
May his Consort Buddha Dhatvishvari back me on the way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
Thus praying with fierce devotion, you dissolve in rainbow light into the heart
of the Vairochana couple, whence you will enter the central pure land
Ghanavyuha, Dense Array, and become a Buddha by way of the Body of Perfect
The cosmology invoked here is that the Five Buddha mandala
is connected to the ordinary universe as a set of Buddha-lands,
universes built up out of enlightenment energies, with one in the
center and one in each of the four directions. The verse recited
comes from The Prayer for Deliverance from the Straits of the
Between. If you substitute a Jesus figure accompanied by a host
of angels, it would still be good to preserve the sense of centrality;
the type of wisdom involved; the fact that this archetype should be
the transmutation of the consciousness process and the addiction
of delusion; the need at this point to turn the attraction towards
the heavens into the aspiration to enter a Buddha-land; and the
colors of the lights.
It might happen that, even though you provide this orientation, because of his faults of
anger, sins, and blocks, the deceased fears the light ray and flees; though he prays, he still
errs. Then on the second day, the Vajrasattva Deity host and the negative evolutionary
impulses leading to hell approach to escort him in their different directions. Here, calling
upon the deceased by name, you should orient him as follows:
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! On this second day, the white light
that is the purity of the element water dawns before you. At this time, from the
blue eastern pure land of Abhirati, Intense Delight, the blue Lord Vajrasattva
Akshobhya arises before you seated on an elephant, carrying a five-pronged vajra
scepter, in union with his consort Buddhalochana, attended by the male
Bodhisattvas Kshitigarbha and Maitreya and the female Bodhisattvas Lasya and
Pushpa—a group of six Archetype Deities. The white light of the Mirror wisdom,
purity of the form aggregate, white and piercing, bright and clear, shines from the
heart of the Vajrasattva couple before you, penetrating, unbearable to your eyes.
At the same time the soft smoky light of the hells shines before you in parallel
with the wisdom light. At that time, under the influence of hate you panic,
terrified by that brilliant white light, and you flee from it. You feel a liking for
that soft smoky light of the hells and you approach it. But now you must
fearlessly recognize that brilliant white, piercing, dazzling clear light as wisdom.
Be gladdened by it with faith and reverence! Pray, and increase your love for it,
thinking, “It is the light of the compassion of Lord Vajrasattva! I take refuge in
it!” It is Lord Vajrasattva’s shining upon you to escort you through the terrors of
the between. It is the tractor-beam of the light of the compassion of Vajrasattva—
have faith in it! Don’t be enticed by that soft smoky light of hell! Hey! That is the
path of destruction from the sins you have accumulated by your strong hatred! If
you cling to it, you will fall into the hells; you will be stuck in the mire of
unbearable ordeals of suffering, without any escape. It is an obstacle to the path
of liberation. Don’t look upon it, and abandon all hate! Don’t cling to it! Don’t
long for it! Have faith in that dazzlingly bright white light! Aim your intense
willpower toward Lord Vajrasattva and make the following prayer:
Alas! When I roam the life cycle driven by strong hate,
May the Lord Vajrasattva lead me on the path
Of the clear light of the mirror wisdom!
May his Consort Buddhalochana back me on the way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
By praying in this way with intense faith, you will dissolve into rainbow light in
the heart of Lord Vajrasattva, and you will go to his eastern pure land Abhirati
and attain Buddhahood in the Body of Perfect Beatitude.
Even though they are so oriented, some people of persistent pride and sinfulness will
fear the tractor beam of the light rays of compassion and will flee from it. Then on the
third day, the Lord Ratnasambhava Deity host and the light path of the human realm
come to escort them. Here, calling upon the deceased by name, you should orient her as
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! On this third day, the yellow light that
is the purity of the element earth dawns. At this time, from the yellow southern
Buddha-land of S hrimat, the yellow Lord Ratnasambhava appears seated on a fine
horse, carrying a precious wish-granting gem, in union with his consort Mamaki,
attended by the male Bodhisattvas Akashagarbha and S amantabhadra and the
female Bodhisattvas Mala and Dhupa—a group of six Buddha deities in a
background of rainbows, rays, and lights. The yellow light of the Equalizing
wisdom, the purity of the sensation aggregate, yellow and piercing, dazzling and
clear, adorned with glistening drops and droplets, shines from the heart of the
Ratnasambhava couple before you, penetrating your heart center, unbearable to
see with your eyes. At the same time, the soft blue light of the human realm
shines before you, penetrating your heart in parallel with the wisdom light. At
that time, under the influence of pride, you panic and are terrified by that
brilliant, energetic yellow light, and you flee it. You feel a liking for that soft blue
light of the human realms and you approach it. But at that time you must
fearlessly recognize that brilliant yellow, piercing, dazzling clear light as
wisdom. Upon it place your mind, relaxing your awareness in the experience of
nothing more to do. Or again be gladdened by it with faith and reverence! If you
can recognize it as the natural energy of your own awareness, without even
having to feel faith or make prayers, you will dissolve indivisibly with all the
images and light rays and you will become a Buddha. If you do not recognize it as
the natural energy of your own awareness, then pray and increase your love for it,
thinking, “It is the light ray of the compassion of Lord Ratnasambhava! I take
refuge in it!” It is the tractor beam of the light rays of the compassion of Lord
Ratnasambhava—have faith in it! Don’t be enticed by that soft blue light of the
human realms—for that is the path of destruction from the sins you have
accumulated by your fierce pride! If you cling to it, you will fall into the human
realms; you will experience the suffering of birth, sickness, old age, and death,
and you will find no time for liberation from the life cycle. It is an obstacle
blocking the path of liberation. Don’t look upon it, and abandon all pride!
Abandon its instinct! Don’t cling to it! Don’t long for it! Have faith in that
dazzlingly bright yellow light! Aim your one-pointed willpower toward the Lord
Ratnasambhava and make the following prayer:
Hey! When I roam the life cycle driven by strong pride,
May the Lord Ratnasambhava lead me on the path
Of the clear light of the equalizing wisdom!
May his Consort Buddha Mamaki back me on the way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
By praying in this way with intense faith, you will dissolve into rainbow light in
the heart of the Lord Ratnasambhava couple, and you will go to the southern pure
land S hrimat and attain Buddhahood in the Body of Perfect Beatitude.
If the deceased recognizes the equalizing wisdom in this way, there is no doubt that
even the weakest minded will be liberated.
However, even if you orient them many times thus, ill-fated persons such as those who
were very sinful and those who have lost their vows still do not succeed in recognizing
their reality. Disturbed by passions and sins, they fear the sounds and lights and flee
from them. So again on the fourth day the Lord Amitabha Deity host and the dull light
path of the passion- and avarice-created pretan realm come to escort them in their
directions. Here, calling upon the deceased by name, you should orient him as follows:
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! On this fourth day, the red light that
is the purity of the element fire dawns. At this time, from the red western world
of S ukhavati, the red Lord Amitabha appears before you seated on a peacock
throne, carrying a lotus, in union with his consort Pandaravasini, attended by the
male Bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri and the female Bodhisattvas
Gita and Aloka—a group of six Buddha deities in a background of rainbows and
lights. The red light of the Discriminating wisdom, purity of the conceptual
aggregate, red and piercing, dazzling and clear, adorned with drops and droplets,
shines from the heart of the Amitabha couple, precisely penetrating your heart
center, unbearable to see with your eyes. Do not fear it! At the same time a soft
yellow light of the pretan realm shines before you, penetrating your heart in
parallel with the wisdom light. Do not indulge in it! Abandon clinging and
longing! At that time, under the influence of fierce passion, you panic and are
terrified by that brilliant, energetic red light, and you want to flee it. You feel a
liking for that soft yellow light of the pretan realms and you approach it.
But at that time you must fearlessly recognize that brilliant red, piercing,
dazzling clear light as wisdom. Upon it place your mind, relaxing your awareness
in the experience of nothing more to do. Or again be gladdened by it with faith
and reverence! If you can recognize it as the natural energy of your own
awareness, without feeling faith, without making prayers, you will dissolve
indivisibly with all the images and light rays and you will become a Buddha. If
you do not recognize it as the natural energy of your own awareness, then pray
and hold your aspiration for it, thinking, “It is the light ray of the compassion of
Lord Amitabha! I take refuge in it!” It is the tractor beam of the light rays of the
compassion of Lord Amitabha—have faith in it! Don’t flee it! If you flee it, it still
will not leave you! Don’t fear it! Don’t be enticed by that soft yellow light of the
pretan realms! It is the path of the instincts of the sins you have accumulated by
your fierce attachment! If you cling to it, you will fall into the pretan realms; you
will experience the intolerable suffering of hunger and thirst, and it will be an
obstacle blocking the path of liberation. Without clinging to it, abandon your
instinct for it! Don’t long for it! Have faith in that dazzlingly bright red light!
Aim your one-pointed will toward the Lord Amitabha couple and make the
following prayer:
Hey! When I roam the life cycle driven by strong passion,
May the Lord Amitabha lead me on the path
Of the clear light of the discriminating wisdom!
May his Consort Buddha Pandaravasini back me on the way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
By praying in this way with intense faith, you will dissolve into rainbow light in
the heart of the Lord Amitabha couple, and you will go to the western pure land
S ukhavati and attain Buddhahood in the Body of Perfect Beatitude.
It is impossible for the deceased not to be liberated by this.
However, even so oriented, by influence of extremely long association with animal
instincts, not abandoning instincts, under the influence of envy and negative evolutionary
actions, the deceased may still feel anxiety and fear the sounds and lights, and may still
not be picked up by the tractor beam of the light rays of compassion. Then, on the fifth
day the Lord Amoghasiddhi Deity host’s compassion light rays and the addictive envy
light path of the titan realm come to escort him. Here, calling upon the deceased by
name, you should orient him as follows:
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! On this fifth day, the green light that
is the purity of the element wind dawns. At this time, from the green northern
Buddha-land of Prakuta, the green Lord Amoghasiddhi appears seated on an
eagle throne, carrying a vajra cross, in union with his consort S amayatara,
attended by the male Bodhisattvas Vajrapani and S arvanivaranaviskambhin and
the female Bodhisattvas Gandha and Nartya—a group of six Buddha deities in a
background of rainbows and lights. The green light of the All-accomplishing
wisdom, purity of the creation aggregate, green, piercing, dazzling and clear,
adorned with glistening drops and droplets, shines from the heart of the
Amoghasiddhi couple, precisely penetrating your heart center, unbearable to see
with your eyes. Not fearing it, knowing it as the natural force of the wisdom of
your own awareness, enter the experience of the great, unoccupied equanimity,
free of attraction to the familiar and aversion to the alien! At the same time a
soft, envy-made red light of the titan realm shines upon you together with the
wisdom light-ray. Meditate upon it with attraction and aversion in balance. If you
are of inferior mind, do not indulge in it! At that time, under the influence of
fierce jealousy, you panic and are terrified by that brilliant, piercing green light,
and you flee it in alarm. You enjoy and are attached to that soft red light of the
titan realm and you approach it. But at that time you must fearlessly recognize
that brilliant green, piercing, dazzling clear light as wisdom. Upon it relax your
awareness in the experience of transcendence with nothing to do. Or again pray
and increase your love for it, thinking, “It is the light ray of the compassion of
Lord Amoghasiddhi! I take refuge in it!” It is the All-accomplishing wisdom, the
light ray of the tractor beam of the compassion of Lord Amoghasiddhi—have faith
in it! Don’t flee it! If you flee it, it still will not leave you! Don’t fear it! Don’t be
enticed by that soft red light of the titan realms! It is the path of destruction from
the negative evolutionary actions you have committed through your powerful
jealousy! If you cling to it, you will fall into the titan realms; you will experience
the intolerable suffering of interminable fighting, and it will be an obstacle
blocking the path of liberation. Without clinging to it, abandon your instinct for
it! Don’t long for it! Have faith in that dazzling bright green light! Aim your onepointed willpower toward the Lord Amoghasiddhi couple and make the following
Hey! When I roam the life cycle driven by strong envy,
May the Lord Amoghasiddhi lead me on the path
Of the clear light of the all-accomplishing wisdom!
May his Consort Buddha S amayatara back me on the way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
By praying in this way with intense faith, you will dissolve into rainbow light in
the heart of the Lord Amoghasiddhi couple, and you will go to the northern pure
land Prakuta and attain Buddhahood in the Body of Perfect Beatitude!
When you thus repeatedly orient the deceased, however feeble his affinity, if he does not
recognize one wisdom, he will recognize another. It is impossible not to be liberated.
However, even though you orient the deceased repeatedly in this way, still through long
association with the myriad instincts and little previous experience with the purified
perception of wisdom, even though he is clearly oriented, he is pulled beyond these
recognitions by the force of negative evolution. Not held by the tractor beam of the light
rays of compassion, he panics and is terrified by the lights and rays, and he wanders
downward. Then, on the sixth day, the five Buddha couples with their retinues all appear
together simultaneously. Here, calling upon the deceased by name, you should orient him
as follows:
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! Up until yesterday, the visions of the
five Buddha-clans appeared to you one by one. Though they were clearly
described, under the influence of negative evolution you were panicked, and still
up to now you are left behind here. If you had already recognized the natural
shining of one of the wisdoms of the five clans as your own visions, it would have
caused you to dissolve into rainbow light in the body of one of the five Buddhaclans and to attain Buddhahood in the Body of Beatitude. As it is, you did not
recognize the light and you are still wandering here. Now, behold without
distraction! Now the vision of all the five clans and the vision of the joining of the
four wisdoms have come to escort you in their direction. Recognize them!
Hey, noble child! The purity of the four elements is dawning as the four lights.
In the center the Vairochana Buddha couple as described above appears from the
pure land All-pervading Drop. In the east the Vajrasattva Buddha couple with
retinue appears from the pure land Abhirati. In the south the Ratnasambhava
Buddha couple with retinue as described above appears from the pure land
S hrimat. In the west the Amitabha Buddha couple with retinue as described above
appears from the lotus-heaped pure land S ukhavati. In the north the
Amoghasiddhi Buddha couple with retinue as described above appears from the
pure land Prakuta, in a rainbow light background.
Hey, noble child! Outside of those five Buddha-clan couples appear the fierce
door guardians Vijaya, Yamantaka, Hayagriva, and Amertakundali; the fierce
door guardian goddesses Ankusha, Pasha, S phota, and Ghanta; and these six Lord
Buddhas: Indra S hatakratu, the Buddha of the gods; Vemachitra, the Buddha of
the titans; S hakyamuni, the Buddha of the humans; S imha, the Buddha of the
animals; Jvalamukha, the Buddha of the pretans; and Dharmaraja, the Buddha of
the hells. Also appearing is the All-around-goodness S amantabhadra FatherMother, the general ancestor of all Buddhas. Altogether the host of the forty-two
deities of the Beatific Body emerges from your own heart center and appears to
you—recognize it as your own pure vision!
Hey, noble one! Those pure lands are not anywhere else—they abide in your
own heart within its center and four directions. They now emerge from out of
your heart and appear to you! Those images do not come from anywhere else!
They are primordially created as the natural manifestation of your own
awareness—so you should know how to recognize them!
Hey, noble one! Those deities, not great, not small, symmetrical, each with
ornamentation, color, posture, throne, and gesture; those deities each pervaded by
five mantras, each of the five circled by a five-colored rainbow aura; with male
Bodhisattvas of each clan upholding the male part and female Bodhisattvas of
each clan upholding the female part, with all the mandalas arising
simultaneously whole—they are your Archetype Deities, so you should recognize
Hey, noble one! From the hearts of those five Buddha-clan couples four
combined wisdom light rays dawn in your heart center, each extremely subtle and
clear, like sun rays woven together in a rope.
Now first, from Vairochana’s heart center, a cloth of the frighteningly brilliant
white light rays of the reality-perfection wisdom dawns connecting to your heart
center. Within that light-ray cloth, white drops glisten with their rays, like
mirrors facing toward you, very clear, brilliant, and awesomely penetrating, with
each drop itself naturally adorned with five other drops. Thus that light-ray cloth
is adorned with drops and droplets without limit or center.
In this vision the reality-perfection wisdom’s light is white,
whereas earlier it was blue. Likewise, Vajrasattva-Akshobhya’s
light has switched from white to blue. The interchangeability of
these two is a fascinating question. Reality perfection wisdom is
sometimes the transmutation of hate, mirror wisdom sometimes
that of delusion, usually associated with the consciousness
process and the matter process, respectively. And sometimes they
are reversed.
From the heart of Vajrasattva, the mirror wisdom, a cloth of blue light rays
shines brilliantly upon you connecting to your heart center, on which shining
blue drops like turquoise bowls facing down toward you, adorned by other drops
and droplets, all shine upon you.
From the heart of Ratnasambhava, a cloth of the equalizing wisdom yellow
light rays shines brilliantly upon you, on which golden drops like golden bowls
adorned by other golden drops and droplets face down and dawn upon you.
From the heart center of Amitabha, the discriminating wisdom red light cloth
shines brilliantly upon you, on which radiant red drops like coral bowls facing
down to you, endowed with the deep luster of wisdom, very bright and penetrating,
each adorned by five natural red drops—all these shine upon you adorned by
drops and droplets without center or limit. These also shine upon you connecting
to your heart center.
Hey, noble one! These all arise from the natural exercise of your own
awareness. They do not come from anywhere else. S o do not be attached to them!
Do not be terrified of them! Relax in the experience of nonconceptualization.
Within that experience all the deities and light rays will dissolve into you and
you will become a Buddha!
Hey, noble one! S ince the exercise of the wisdom of your awareness is not
perfected, the all-accomplishing wisdom’s green light does not shine.
Hey, noble one! These are called the vision of the four wisdoms in combination,
the inner passageway of Vajrasattva. At that time, you should remember the
orientation previously given by your spiritual teacher! If you remember that
orientation, you will trust those visions, you will recognize reality like the child
meeting the mother, or like the greeting of a long familiar person; and you will
cease all reifying notions. Recognizing your visions as your own creations, you
will trust your being held on the changeless path of pure reality, and you will
achieve the samadhi of continuity. Your awareness will dissolve into the body of
great effortlessness, and you will become a Buddha in the Beatific Body, never to
be reversed.
Hey, noble one! Along with the wisdom lights, there also arise the impure,
misleading visions of the six species; namely, the soft white light of the gods, the
soft red light of the titans, the soft blue light of the humans, the soft green light
of the animals, the soft yellow light of the pretans, and the soft smoky light of the
hells. These six arise entwined in parallel with the pure wisdom lights.
Therefore, don’t seize or cling to any of those lights. Relax in the experience of
nonperception! If you fear the wisdom lights and cling to the impure six-species
life-cycle lights, you will assume a body of a being of the six species. You will not
reach the time of liberation from the great ocean of suffering of the life cycle. You
will experience only trouble.
Hey, noble one! If you lack the orientation given in the instruction of the
spiritual teacher, and you fear and are terrified by the above images and pure
wisdom lights, you will come to cling to the impure life-cycle lights. Do not do so!
Have faith in those dazzling, piercing pure wisdom lights! Trust in them,
thinking, “These light rays of the wisdom of the compassion of the Blissful Lords
of the five clans have come to me to hold me with compassion—I must take refuge
in them!” Not clinging, not longing for the misleading lights of the six species,
aim your will one-pointedly toward the five Buddha-clan couples, and make the
following prayer:
Hey! When I roam the life cycle driven by the five strong poisons,
May the Lord Victors of the five clans lead me on the path
Of the clear light of the four wisdoms in combination!
May the supreme five Consort Buddhas back me on the way,
And deliver me from the impure lights of the six realms!
Delivering me from the dangerous straits of the between,
May they carry me to the five supreme pure lands!
Thus having prayed, in the best case the deceased recognizes these visions as her own
creations, dissolves into nonduality, and becomes a Buddha. In the medium case, she
recognizes them through intense faith and becomes liberated. In the worst case, by the
power of sincere prayer, she blocks the doors of rebirth among the six species, she
realizes the import of the four wisdoms in combination, and she becomes a Buddha by
the inner passageway of Vajrasattva. Thus being oriented clearly and in detail, most
beings most often will recognize reality and be liberated.
However, some sinful people with absolutely no Dharma instinct, dwelling in the most
highly uncivilized countries, and some who have abandoned their spiritual vows, will be
misled by evolution. Though fully oriented, they will not recognize the Truth Realm, and
will wander further downward. On the seventh day, from the Pure Land of Buddhaangels, the Scientist Deity host, along with the delusion-created light path of the animal
realm, will come to escort them. Here, calling upon the deceased by name, you should
orient him as follows:
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! On the seventh day a five-colored,
rainbow-striped light will dawn to purify your instincts by immersion in reality.
At that time, from the pure land of the angels, the S cientist Deity host will come
to escort you. In the center of a mandala wreathed in rainbows and lights, the
unexcelled S cientist of evolutionary development, Padmanarteshvara, will arise,
his body lustrous with the five colors, his consort the Red Angel wound round his
body, performing the dance of chopper and blood-filled skull bowl, striking the
gazing posture toward the sky.
These Scientists are great adepts, such as the famous group
of eighty-four from classical India, who have passed from the
human realm to special paradises associated with hidden valleys
of the Himalayan regions, the “pure lands of the dakini angels.”
They are associated with speech and, though human in
embodiment, have many attributes of fierce deities. They hold in
their left hands the skull bowl filled with demon blood and other
bodily substances transmuted alchemically into elixir of
immortality. In their right hands they hold the scepter-handled
chopper-knife that symbolizes critical wisdom and cuts into pieces
the bones and flesh of ordinary life in order to make it into elixir,
just as critical wisdom dissects all appearances of intrinsic
substantiality to reveal the elixir of liberating voidness.
From the east of that mandala the S tage-contemplating S cientist will arise,
white, his expression smiling, his consort the White Angel wound round his body,
performing the chopper and skull-bowl dance and the gesture of gazing into
space. From the south of that mandala the Lifespan-master S cientist will arise,
yellow with beautiful signs, his consort the Yellow Angel wound round his body,
performing the chopper and skull-bowl dance and the gesture of gazing into
space. From the west of that mandala the Great S eal S cientist will arise, red with
a smiling expression, his consort the Red Angel wound round his body,
performing the chopper and skull-bowl dance and the gesture of gazing into
space. From the north of that mandala the Effortlessness S cientist will arise,
green and smiling fiercely, his consort the Green Angel wound round his body,
performing the chopper and skull-bowl dance and the gesture of gazing into
Ranged outside of those scientists, the infinite Angel host arises in order to
escort the vow-holding devotee, and to punish the breakers of vows; they are the
eight death-ground Angels, the four classes of Angels, the three holy place
Angels, the ten holy place Angels, the twenty-four holy land Angels, and the
Heroes, the Heroines, and the warrior deities, along with all their defenders, the
Dharma-protectors. All wear the six human bone ornaments, carry drums, thighbone trumpets, skull drums, human skin victory standards, human skin parasols
and pennants, singed flesh incense, and play infinite different kinds of music.
They fill the entire universe, rocking, dancing, and shaking, all their musical
sounds vibrating as if to split your head open, and performing various dances.
The Scientist and Angel Host is composed of the heroic male
and female seekers of enlightenment who have embarked upon
the profound odyssey of exploring the underworld of the
unconscious with all its terrors and intensities. They adorn
themselves with all sorts of gruesome ornaments, making jewelry
from human bones and intestines of unburnt corpses, musical
instruments from thigh bones and skulls and skins of animals and
humans, and they smear themselves with ashes from funeral pyres.
They often hold court in cemetaries or burning grounds, showing
their transcendence of death and terror by using as ornament and
equipment that which terrifies ordinary people. If understood, they
afford security and assistance to the practitioner or traveler in the
Hey, noble one! S pontaneously purifying instincts in reality, the five-colored
wisdom light striped like colored threads wound together dazzles, shimmers, and
shines steadily, clear and brilliant, startlingly piercing; from the hearts of the
five S cientist Lords it blinds your eyes and penetrates into your heart center. At
the same time the soft green light of the animal realm dawns together with the
wisdom light. At that time, under the influence of your instincts, you fear the
five-colored light and flee from it, enticed by the soft green light of the animal
realm. Therefore, don’t be afraid of that energetic, piercing, five-colored light!
Don’t be terrified! Recognize it as wisdom! From within the light comes the
thousand rolling thunders of the natural sound of teaching. The sound is fierce,
reverberating, rumbling, stirring, like fierce mantras of intense sound. Don’t fear
it! Don’t flee it! Don’t be terrified of it! Recognize it as the exercise of your own
awareness, your own perception. Do not be attached to that soft green light of the
animal realms. Do not long for it! If you cling to it, you will fall into the delusiondominated realm of the animals, and you will suffer infinite miseries of
stupefaction, dumbness, and slavery, without any time of escape. S o do not cling
to it! Have faith in that penetrating, bright, five-colored light! Aim your will onepointedly toward the Lord S cientist Master Deity host! Aim your will with the
This S cientist Deity host with its Heroes and Angels has come to escort me to
the pure angelic heaven! O, you must know how beings such as me have
accumulated no stores of merit and wisdom. We have not been taken up by the
grip of the light rays of compassion of such a five-clan Deity host of the Blissful
Buddhas of the three times. Alas! S uch am I! Now, you the S cientist Deity host,
from now on do not neglect me no matter what! Hold me with the tractor beam of
your compassion! Right now draw me to the pure heaven of the Buddha Angels!
Then you should make the following prayer:
Hey! May the S cientist Deity host look upon me!
Please lead me on the path with your great love!
When I roam the life cycle driven by strong instincts,
May the Hero S cientists lead me on the path
Of the clear light of orgasmic wisdom!
May their consort Angel host back me on my way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
When you make this prayer with intense faith, you will dissolve into rainbow
light at the heart center of the S cientist Deity host and without a doubt will be
reborn in the perfect Angel heaven realm.
When any spiritual friend is oriented in this manner, he invariably recognizes the realm of
truth and is liberated. Even though his instincts may be negative, he will surely be
liberated. Here The Great Book of Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the
Between concludes the orientation to the clear light in the death-point between and the
description of the reality between of the mild deities.
The fierce deities are actually the same five archetype
Buddhas—Vairochana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha,
and Amoghasiddhi—appearing in their terrific, or Heruka, forms.
Heruka is a Sanskrit term for a powerful, aggressive hero figure,
perhaps cognate with “Hercules.” The Archetype Deity Buddhas
adopt these forms to engage with the subconscious mind of a
person in the between. By this time in the between, a person who
has not been able to accept the mild Buddhas’ invitations to
liberation or life in the Buddha-lands is about to lose conscious
control and fall under the compulsion of subconscious drives of
lust and aggression. This is why he begins to feel panic and terror.
In this strait, the Buddhas adopt a ferocious approach, forcefully
breaking into the person’s awareness and offering him a powerful
escort through a realm that has suddenly become frightening. The
Heruka Buddhas in the next days are of various wisdom colors,
have three faces, six arms, and four legs.
If you are unfamiliar with such fierce deities, or have strong
affiliation with another religion, you should investigate the fierce
angels of that tradition (all religions have such figures). In
Christianity there are the cherubim and seraphim, which you can
invoke on these days.
Now the fierce deity reality between arises. The previous mild deity between had seven
stages of passage through its dangerous straits. Being oriented to those in order, if the
deceased did not recognize the clear light on one stage, she recognized it on another.
Limitless numbers of beings attain liberation thereby. Though many are liberated, beings
are numberless, negative evolution has great power, sins and obscurations are naturally
dense, and instincts are long engrained. This vast machine of the cycle of life is neither
exhausted nor increased. Thus, even if one has instructed them with great precision, there
is a great stream of beings who are still not liberated and continue to wander downward.
Thus, after the mild deity host and the scientist and angel escorts have made their
appearances, through the transformation of the mild deity host, the blazing, fierce, fiftyeight-deity Heruka host will arise. Now, they will be different, as this is the fierce
between. The deceased comes under the influence of panic, fear, and terror. It becomes
much harder to orient her. Her awareness loses all self-control, and she faints with
dizziness. However, if she can even slightly recognize the clear light, she can be easily
liberated. Why? Because when the visions of panic, fear, and terror dawn, her awareness
has no time for distraction, it is forced to focus one-pointedly. On this occasion, if one
does not encounter this kind of instruction, even an ocean of knowledge will be of no
help. Even the abbots, masters of monastic discipline, and the great teachers of
philosophy will err on this occasion; they will not recognize the clear light. They will
wander on in the life cycle. And even more so in the case of ordinary persons; fleeing in
panic, fear, and terror, they fall into the abyss of the horrid states and suffer untold
The least of the least of the Tantric yoga practitioners, when they see the Heruka
deity host, recognize them at once as their archetype deities, like meeting old friends, and
they feel faith toward them. M erging nondually with them they become Buddhas.
Further, those who in the human realm practiced the visualizations of these Heruka
deities, made offerings and praises, or at least made paintings of the deities or saw
sculptures of them and so forth, just by that, they will recognize the arisal of these
deities and be liberated. And this is the key point. Again, in the human realm, those
discipline master abbots and teachers of philosophy, however expert they may be, when
they die, they leave no signs such as body jewels, relics, and rainbow lights. While alive,
the Tantras did not appeal to their minds, they disparaged them and cultivated no
familiarity with the Tantric deity hosts. Thus when those deities dawn in the between,
they do not recognize them. Suddenly seeing what they have never seen before, they
think they are enemies. They feel anger toward them, and thereby they fall into the
horrid states. Therefore, no matter how holy a discipline master or philosopher seems to
be, his lack of interior practice of Tantra may be the reason why he leaves no jewels, no
relics, no rainbow lights, and so on. The least of the least of Tantric practitioners, even
though superficially their acts may be coarse, they may be inexpert, they may indulge in
inappropriate and inelegant behavior, and they may not have been able to practice the
Tantric teachings thoroughly, still, as long as they have developed no wrong views
toward Tantra, as long as they have no doubts, just by having faith in the Tantras they
will attain liberation on this occasion. Even if their behavior was unseemly in society,
signs will emerge at the time of death, such as bone jewels, relics, images, and rainbow
lights. And that is because this Tantra has extremely great blessings.
From the average Tantric practitioner up, those who have meditated on the creation
and perfection stages, who have repeated the essence mantras and so on, they have no
need to wander down to this reality between. The moment their breath ceases, the
scientists, heroes, angels, and retinues will surely come to invite them to the pure angelic
heaven. The signs of that will be a clear sky, a profusion of rainbows and lights, a rain of
flowers, the smell of incense, the sound of music in the sky, rays, and the presence of
bone jewels, relics, and images.
The spiritual energy of the Tantras is believed to be so great
that merely a positive association with the teachings generates a
special sanctity in the practitioner. When such yogis or yoginis are
cremated after death, it is commonly reported in Tibet that
strange, pearllike gems are found in the ashes, and sometimes
images of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, or Archetype Deities.
Therefore, the discipline master, the philosopher, the Tantric practitioner who broke
his vows, and all ordinary people, have no method better than this Natural Liberation.
But the great meditators who have practiced the Great Perfection, the Great Seal, and so
forth, will attain the Truth Body by recognizing the clear light of the death-point
between, and without exception do not need to read this Book of Natural Liberation.
Again, by recognizing the clear light of the death-point between, one attains the Truth
Body. If one recognizes the clear light in the reality between when the visions of the mild
and fierce deities arise, one attains the Beatific Body. If one recognizes the light in the
existence between, one attains the Emanation Body and is reborn in the higher estates.
Encountering this teaching, one gains the benefit of the evolutionary momentum of
experiencing one’s last life.
Since enlightened Buddhas have boundless lives in response
to the needs of beings, this does not mean that after liberation,
one will never live again. It only means that one is not compelled
to live an unenlightened life of suffering, driven by confusion and
addictive emotions.
Therefore, this Natural Liberation is the teaching for attaining Buddhahood without
meditation. It is the teaching for attaining liberation just by initial understanding. It is the
teaching that leads great sinners to the secret path. It is the teaching that makes an
immediate difference. It is the profound teaching that leads to perfect Buddhahood
instantly. It is impossible for a being who has found it to descend into the horrid states.
You should read this and the Liberation by Wearing. To combine these two is like filling a
golden offering mandala with chips of turquoise.
The Liberation by Wearing the Natural Liberation of the
Body, is included in the original text in 21 folios. It repeats the
mantric formulae of the hundred deities of the Natural Liberation
system. The mantras are to be written and bound up in an amulet,
which the corpse then wears, assuring that the person will not be
carried down into any horrid state.
Thus having shown the great necessity of the Natural Liberation, now we give the
orientation to the arisal of the fierce deity between. You should call the deceased by
name three times and then say the following:
As above, you pronounce the following instructions at the side
of the corpse, if there is one, or in a place familiar to the
deceased, or even in your own study, visualizing the deceased as
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! The peaceful between already
dawned, but you did not recognize the light. S o now you still must wander here.
Now on this eighth day, the Heruka Fierce Deity host will arise. Do not waver!
Recognize them! Hey, noble one! The great, glorious Buddha Heruka appears,
wine maroon in color, with three faces, six arms, and four legs stretched out, his
front face maroon, his right face white, his left face red, his entire body blazing
with light rays. His eyes glare, fiercely terrifying, his eyebrows flash like
lightning, his fangs gleam like new copper. He roars with laughter, “A la la,” and
“Ha ha ha,” and he makes loud hissing noises like “shu-uu.” His bright orange
hair blazes upward, adorned with skull crown and sun and moon discs. His body is
adorned with black snakes and a freshly severed head garland. His first right
hand holds a wheel, the middle an ax, and the third a sword; his first left hand
holds a bell, the middle a plowshare, and the third a skull bowl. His Consort
Buddha Krodhishvari enfolds his body, her right arm embracing his neck, her left
hand offering him sips of blood from her skull bowl. S he clucks her tongue
menacingly and roars just like thunder. Both are ablaze with wisdom flames,
shooting out from their blazing vajra hairs. They stand in the warrior’s posture
on a throne supported by garudas. Thus they arise manifestly before you, having
emerged from within your own brain! Do not fear them! Do not be terrified! Do
not hate them! Recognize them as an image of your own awareness! He is your
own Archetype Deity, so do not panic! In fact, they are really Lord Vairochana
Father and Mother, so do not be afraid! The very moment you recognize them,
you will be liberated!
This Buddha Heruka archetype deity is adorned in the usual
fierce deity way. His skull crown symbolizes his conquest of the
five poisons of lust, hate, delusion, pride, and envy. His severedhead garland symbolizes his overcoming of all his own mental
addictions and negative attitudes. His union with Krodhishvari
(literally, “Goddess of Ferocity”) symbolizes the union of
compassion with wisdom. His drinking of the blood from the skull
bowl symbolizes the ability of ultimate reality wisdom to transmute
the life-blood of the demon of ignorance into the elixir of perfect
freedom with its blissful peacefulness and compassionate
dynamism. Alternatively, blood is a symbol of the female, of
transcendent wisdom, and the male Heruka’s drinking it
symbolizes that wisdom is the source of the energy of
compassion. The Heruka’s snake necklace, hair ribbon, bracelets,
anklets, and belt symbolize his subjugation of the serpent powers
of the earth. The hand implements symbolize various realizations
and concentrations he can manifest to help beings break free of
delusions and shatter bonds. “Vajra” means thunderbolt, diamond,
lightning, a substance of the strongest force in the universe, which
is the force of wisdom become love. The flames emitted by these
deities, their hair and eyebrows, are vajralike in intensity, like
controlled lightning, like white-hot welding heat, like contained
supernova explosions. Vajra is the highest symbol of compassion
as the ultimate power. Sometimes it can be a five- or ninepronged scepter, with the same symbolism. The eaglelike garudas
supporting their pedestal symbolize the power of far-seeing
wisdom to conquer any negativity. Once one has identified with
such a terrific presence and merged within it, it provides a secure
vehicle to traverse any conceivable evolutionary difficulty.
When you recite this, the deceased will recognize them as his Archetype Deity,
dissolve indivisibly into them, and become a Buddha in the Beatific Body.
If the deceased feels overcome by fear and hate, and flees without recognizing them, then
on the ninth day, the Heruka of the Vajra Buddha-clan will come to escort her. After
calling the deceased by name, you should orient her as follows:
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! Now on the ninth day the Lord Vajra
Heruka of the Vajra-clan will arise before you, emerging from within your brain.
He is dark blue, with three faces, six arms, and four legs stretched out. His front
face is dark blue, his right face white, his left face red. His first right hand holds a
vajra, the middle a skull bowl, and the third an ax; his first left hand holds a bell,
the middle a skull bowl, and the third a plowshare. His Consort Buddha Vajra
Krodhishvari enfolds his body, her right arm embracing his neck, her left hand
offering him sips of blood from her skull bowl. Thus they arise manifestly before
you, having emerged from within your own brain! Do not fear them! Do not be
terrified! Do not hate them! Recognize them as an image of your own awareness!
They are your own Archetype Deity, so do not panic! In fact, they are really Lord
Vajrasattva Father and Mother, so have faith in them! The very moment you
recognize them, you will be liberated!
When you recite this, the deceased will recognize them as her Archetype Deity, dissolve
inseparably into them, and become a Buddha in the Beatific Body.
If those with heavy obscurations feel overcome by fear and hate, and flee without
recognizing them, then on the tenth day, the Heruka of the Jewel Buddha-clan will come
to escort them. After calling the deceased by name, you should orient him as follows:
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! Now on the tenth day the Jewel-clan
Heruka, Lord Ratna Heruka, will manifest to you, emerging from within your
brain. He is dark yellow, with three faces, six arms, and four legs stretched out,
his front face dark yellow, his right face white, his left face red. His first right
hand holds a jewel, the middle a khatvanga staff, and the third a club; his first
left hand holds a bell, the middle a skull bowl, and the third a trident. His
Consort Buddha Ratna Krodhishvari enfolds his body, her right arm embracing
his neck, her left hand offering him sips of blood from her skull bowl. Thus they
arise manifestly before you, having emerged from within the southern part of
your own brain! Do not fear them! Do not be terrified! Do not hate them!
Recognize them as an image of your own awareness! They are your own
Archetype Deity, so do not panic! In fact, they are really Lord Ratnasambhava
Father and Mother, so have faith in them! The very moment you recognize them,
you will be liberated!
A khatvanga staff is a symbol of a Buddha’s mastery of the
central channel of the yogic inner nervous system. It has an eightsided shaft, a half-vajra scepter on the bottom, and the top is built
up of a vase of immortality, three shrunken heads that symbolize
triumph over lust, hate, and delusion, and a trident blade above
When you recite this, the deceased will recognize them as his archetype deity, dissolve
inseparably into them, and become a Buddha in the Beatific Body.
If, when encountering these deities, the deceased is led astray by negative instincts, feels
fear and hate, and flees without recognizing them as her archetype deity, mistaking them
to be the Lord of Death, then on the eleventh day, the Heruka of the Lotus Buddha-clan
will come to escort her. After calling the deceased by name, you should orient her as
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! Now on the eleventh day, the Lotusclan Heruka, Lord Padma Heruka, will manifest to you, emerging from within
your brain. He is dark red, with three faces, six arms, and four legs stretched out,
his front face dark red, his right face white, his left face blue. His first right hand
holds a lotus, the middle a khatvanga staff, and the third a rod; his first left hand
holds a bell, the middle a skull bowl filled with blood, and the third a small drum.
His Consort Buddha Padma Krodhishvari enfolds his body, her right arm
embracing his neck, her left hand offering him sips of blood from her skull bowl.
Thus they arise manifestly before you, standing in sexual union, having emerged
from within your own brain! Do not fear them! Do not be terrified! Do not hate
them! Feel delight! Recognize them as an image of your own awareness! They
are your own Archetype Deity, so do not panic! In fact, they are really Lord
Amitabha Father and Mother, so have faith in them! The very moment you
recognize them, you will be liberated!
When you recite this, the deceased will recognize them as her Archetype Deity, dissolve
inseparably into them, and become a Buddha in the Beatific Body.
If, when they are encountered, the deceased is led astray by negative instincts, feels fear
and hate, and flees without recognizing them as his Archetype Deity, mistaking them to
be the Lord of Death, then on the twelfth day, the Heruka of the Karma Buddha-clan
deity host, and the Gauri goddesses, the Pishachi ghouls, and the Ishvari goddesses will
come to escort him. If they are not recognized he will be terrified. So, after calling the
deceased by name, he should be oriented toward them as follows:
The Gauri goddesses, Pishachi ghouls, and Ishvari goddesses
are various types of fierce female deities, who will be described
below in the text itself. Encountering them is like encountering
extremely deeply repressed elements of your own psyche,
terrifying because they are denied. At this juncture in the between,
when there is no avoiding the encounter with the grim side of
reality, the deceased has no time to insist on a nice self-image. So
meeting these fierce female beings, these primal powers of nature,
is extremely important, and it is essential that you overcome your
initial revulsion.
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! Now on this the twelfth day, the Lord
Karma Heruka of the Karma-clan will manifest before you, emerging from
within your own brain. He is dark green, with three faces, six arms, and four legs
stretched out, his front face dark green, his right face white, his left face red. His
first right hand holds a sword, the middle a khatvanga staff, and the third a rod;
his first left hand holds a bell, the middle a skull bowl, and the third a plowshare.
His Consort Buddha Karma Krodhishvari enfolds his body, her right arm
embracing his neck, her left hand offering him sips of blood from her skull bowl.
Thus they arise manifestly before you, standing in sexual embrace, having
emerged from the north of your own brain! Do not fear them! Do not be terrified!
Do not hate them! Recognize them as an image of your own awareness! They are
your own Archetype Deity, so do not panic! In fact, they are really Lord
Amoghasiddhi Father and Mother, so have faith in them, feel deep reverence for
them! The very moment you recognize them, you will be liberated!
When you recite this, the deceased will recognize them as his Archetype Deity,
dissolve inseparably into them, and become a Buddha.
Thus through the instructions of the spiritual teacher, when you recognize these
deities as your own visions, the creations of your own awareness, then you will be
liberated, just as you become free from fear when you recognize that a frightening lion is
only stuffed. If you did not know that a certain lion was stuffed, you would feel fear and
hate when encountering it; but when someone tells you what it really is, you are relieved,
and lose all fear. So, when you see the host of Heruka deities, with their huge bodies and
powerful limbs, arising to fill all space, you will surely feel fear and hate. But as soon as
you receive this orientation, you can recognize them as your own visions or as your
Archetype Deities. The clear light you have previously meditated on and the clear light
that now arises can merge like mother and child, and you are instantly liberated in the
natural clarity of your own awareness, like meeting an old friend, since in such awareness
whatever arises is naturally liberated. If you have not received this orientation, even if
you are a good person, you will turn away from these fierce deities and wander further in
the life cycle.
Then the eight fierce Gauri goddesses and the eight Pishachi ghouls with their animal
heads will emerge from within her brain and appear to her. After calling the deceased by
name, you should orient her as follows:
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! The eight Gauri goddesses will
emerge from within your brain and appear to you! Do not fear them! From the
east of your brain appears to your east a white Gauri, her right hand holding a
corpse as a club and her left hand holding a blood-filled skull bowl. Do not fear
her! From the south, a yellow Chauri, aiming a bow and arrow; from the west, a
red Pramoha, holding a crocodile victory standard; from the north, a black Vetali,
holding a vajra and a blood-filled skull bowl; from the southeast, an orange
Pukkasi, her right hand holding intestines, her left hand feeding them into her
mouth; from the southwest, a dark green Ghasmari, her left hand holding a
blood-filled skull bowl and her right hand holding a vajra, with which she stirs
the blood and feeds it into her mouth; from the northwest, a pale yellow Chandali
holding a body and head across her shoulders, her right hand holding a heart and
her left hand feeding herself with the corpse; from the northeast, a dark blue
S hmashani, feeding on a headless body; all these eight holy-ground Gauri
goddesses emerge from within your brain and appear to you surrounding the five
Herukas! Do not fear them!
These Gauri goddesses have humanlike heads and faces,
except that they have three eyes, with one vertical eye in the
middle of their forehead. They have two arms and two legs. They
appear with the most fearsome aspect imaginable—you have not
visualized them correctly if they do not inspire terror. They are
said to come from the holy grounds in the various quarters of the
earth, as they arc awesome guardians associated with the sacred
burial places and power spots of the land.
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! After that, the eight Pishachi ghouls
of the holy lands will appear to you! From the east, a dark maroon, lion-headed
S imhasya, crossing her arms over her chest, holding a corpse in her mouth, and
tossing her mane; from the south, a red, tiger-headed Vyaghrasya, crossing her
arms downward, staring hypnotically and gnashing her fangs; from the west, a
black, jackal-headed S hrgalasya, with a razor in her right hand, holding and
feeding on intestines in her left hand; from the north, a dark blue, wolf-headed
S hvanasya, lifting a corpse up to her mouth with her two hands and staring
hypnotically; from the southeast, a light yellow, vulture-headed Grdhrasya,
carrying a corpse over her shoulder and holding a skeleton in her hand; from the
southwest, a dark red, hawk-headed Kankhasya, carrying a corpse over her
shoulder; from the northwest, a black, crow-headed Kakasya, with a sword in her
right hand, eating lungs and hearts; from the northeast, a dark blue, owl-headed
Ulukasya, eating flesh and holding a vajra in her right hand and a sword in her
left hand; all these holy-land Pishachi ghouls emerge from within your brain and
appear to you surrounding the five Herukas! Do not fear them! Recognize
whatever arises as the creativity of your own visionary awareness!
These ghouls have animal heads, as described, and two arms
and two legs. They are cannibalistic and revolting.
Hey, noble one! Listen without wavering! The four Door-guardian goddesses
will emerge from your own brain and appear to you, so recognize them! From the
east of your brain, a white, horse-headed Ankusha, with an iron hook in her right
hand, and a blood-filled skull bowl in her left hand, will appear to your east. From
the south, a yellow, pig-headed Pasha holding a noose; from the west, a red, lionheaded S hernkhala, holding an iron chain; from the north, a green, serpentheaded Ghanta holding a bell; these four Door-guardian goddesses will emerge
from your brain and appear to you! Recognize them as being your own Archetype
Hey, noble one! Outside of these thirty fierce Heruka deities, the twenty-eight
Ishvari goddesses with their various heads and their various implements will
emerge from within your brain and appear to you. Do not fear them, but
recognize them as the creativity of your own visionary awareness! At this time
when you have arrived at the crucial moment of cessation, remember the
instructions of your spiritual teacher!
The thirty fierce Heruka deities are the ten Heruka Fathers
and Mothers, the eight Gauris, the eight Pishachis, and the four
Door-guardian goddesses. The Ishvari goddesses below arc also
called “Yoginis,” indicating that they are deities of the subtle
realms of the interior experience of advanced adepts. They arc
also goddesses of the Indian pantheon, many of them being
female forms of well-known deities, such as Brahma, Indra,
Kumara, and so forth. A person from another culture would want
to include fierce angels from his own culture, thinking of them as
icons of these spiritual beings alive within his own psyche. Their
animal heads also indicate that they represent the powers of the
natural world. Making your peace with them thus puts you into a
balanced state in relation to your culturally induced sense of the
divine realm as well as to the living presences in your natural
Hey, noble one! From the east, the dark maroon, yak-headed Rakshasi holding
a vajra; the orange, serpent-headed Brahmi holding a lotus; the dark green,
leopard-headed Maheshvari holding a trident; the blue, mongoose-headed Lobha
holding a wheel; the red, mule-headed Kumari holding a javelin; the white, bearheaded Indrani holding an intestine-noose; these six eastern Yoginis emerge
from your own brain and appear before you! Do not fear them!
Hey, noble one! From the south, the yellow, bat-headed Vajra holding a razor;
the red, crocodile-headed S hanti holding a vase; the red, scorpion-headed Amerta
holding a lotus; the white, hawk-headed Chandra holding a vajra; the dark green,
box-headed Gada holding a club; the yellow-black, tiger-headed Rakshasi holding
skull-bowl blood; these six southern Yoginis emerge from your own brain and
appear before you! Do not fear them!
From the west, the dark green, vulture-headed Bhakshasi holding a club; the
red, horse-headed Rati holding a human torso; the white, garuda-headed
Mahabali holding a club; the red, dog-headed Rakshasi holding a vajra razor; the
red, hoopoe-headed Kama aiming a bow and arrow; the red-green, deer-headed
Vasuraksha holding a vase; these six western Yoginis emerge from within your
brain and appear before you! Do not fear them!
Hey, noble one! From the north, the blue, wolf-headed Vayavi holding a banner;
the red, ibex-headed Narini holding an impaling stake; the black, boar-headed
Varahi holding a tusk-noose; the red, crow-headed Rati holding a child’s skin; the
green-black, elephant-headed Mahanasi holding a fresh corpse and drinking
blood from a skull bowl; the blue, serpent-headed Varuni holding a serpentnoose; these six northern Yoginis will emerge from within your brain and appear
before you! Do not fear them!
Hey, noble one! The four outer Door-guardian Yoginis will emerge from within
your brain and appear before you! From the east, the white, cuckoo-headed Vajra
holding an iron hook; from the south, the yellow, goat-headed Vajra holding a
noose; from the west, the red, lion-headed Vajra holding an iron chain; from the
north, the green-black, serpent-headed Vajra holding a bell; these four Door
Yoginis will emerge from within your brain and appear before you! All these
twenty-eight goddesses arise naturally from the creativity of the self-originating
bodies of the fierce Herukas—so you should recognize them as Buddha-wisdom!
Hey, noble one! The Truth Body arises from the voidness side as the peaceful
deities! Recognize it! The Beatific Body arises from the clarity side as the fierce
deities! Recognize it! At this time when the fifty-eight-deity Heruka host
emerges from within your brain and appears before you, if you know that
whatever arises is arisen from the natural energy of your own awareness, you will
immediately become nondual with the Heruka Body and become a Buddha!
The concept of clarity-voidness indivisible is precisely parallel
to the inconceivable nonduality of the ultimate Truth Body and the
relative Beatific Body of the Buddhas. Voidness is not a dark
nothingness, the purely negative zone we might think of when we
allow our mind to imagine something corresponding to the
unimaginable absolute. Voidness is the voidness of the intrinsic
reality of everything, including voidness itself. It is precisely that
form of the absolute that does not pose as any sort of pseudorelative absolute—it does not get in the way of the infinite
network of relativities. Therefore it is the creativity of clarity, of
light, of infinite distinctness. And that distinctness is capable of
relationality because it is free of intrinsic realities. Creativity and
freedom, clarity and voidness are nondual. The void side of the
nonduality is aligned with the Truth Body, the presence in
enlightenment of the absolute as a body, an experiential, infinite,
calm presence. And the clear side of the nonduality is aligned with
the Beatific Body, the presence in enlightenment of the relative
awareness of the absolute through self-releasing ecstasy as a
body, and experiential, infinite, orgasmic ecstasy. The Truth Body
presence is imaged forth to human consciousness in the form of
the calm Archetype Deities. The Beatific Body ecstasy is imaged
forth in the form of the fierce archetype deities. And both these
aspects of perfect enlightenment are completely inseparable from
your own natural intelligence and sensitivity. If you recognize them
as your own essential nature, then freedom is yours, and the
enlightenment of Buddhahood.
Hey, noble one! If you do not recognize that, you will cling to superficial
reality, feel fear and hate, and flee these deities. You will go down again into
excessive misery! If you do not recognize them, you will perceive the whole
Heruka Deity host as if they were Yamas, Lords of Death, and you will fear the
Heruka deities. You will hate them! You will panic! You will faint! Your own
visions having become devils, you will wander in the life cycle!
You have met Yama before as the Lord of Death, the lord of
the underworld who acts as judge of the good and bad deeds of
the deceased, and assigns them their destiny. His minions are
those who come for the soul of the dying, and so to perceive
Yama is to meet death perceived as an alien, hostile being who
threatens one with the ultimate power of life and death and destiny
in the beyond. So the deceased who refuses to acknowledge the
power and glory of her own consciousness, who cannot
incorporate all the repressed imagery of her unconscious,
perceives the fierce deities as alien, hostile beings, mortal enemies,
and thereby gives herself over to terror and hatred. Thus, to help
the dying effectively, it is not enough to prepare the departing
person for mild and peaceful images. If the Indian and Tibetan
imagery seems too strange and exotic, then local imagery of fierce
cherubim or seraphim, of animal totems or shamanic nature spirits
—whatever it takes—will be required to prepare the dying
person for the wild and intense imagery her own mind will
naturally generate.
Hey, noble one! These mild and fierce deities at most will be as big as space, at
medium will be as large as S umeru, the planetary axis, at the least will be as
large as eighteen times the height of your own body—so do not be afraid of them!
All visible existence will arise as lights and deities! And all visions arising as
lights and deities must be recognized as the natural energy of your own
awareness. When your own energy dissolves nondually into these natural lights
and deities, you will become a Buddha!
O my child! What you see and perceive, whatever terrifying visions occur,
recognize them as your own visions! Recognize the clear light as the natural
energy of your own awareness! If you so recognize, there is no doubt you will
become a Buddha right away! The so-called “instantaneous perfect Buddhahood”
will have come to pass! Remember this in your mind!
Hey, noble one! If now you do not recognize the light, and if you cling to terror,
all the mild deities will arise as black Mahakala guardians! All the fierce deities
will arise as Yama Dharmaraja deities! Your own visions having become devils,
you will wander in the life cycle!
Even the mild deities will appear as demonic guardians, grisly
and frightening in aspect, just as the fierce deities will appear as
death gods.
Hey, noble one! If you do not recognize your own visions, though you become
expert in all scriptures of sutra and Tantra, though you practice the Dharma for
an eon, you will not become a Buddha! If you recognize your own visions, with
one key, one word, you will become a Buddha! If you do not recognize your own
visions, then the moment you die, reality arises in the between in the image of
Yama Dharmaraja the Lord of Death! The Yama Dharmaraja deities will arise at
most filling all of space, at medium like huge mountains, filling the whole world.
Their fanglike teeth protruding over their lips, their eyes like glass, their hair
bound up on top of their heads, with protruding bellies, with thin necks, they
carry punishment boards and shout, “Beat him!” and “Kill him!” They lick up
your brains, they sever your head from your body, and they extract your heart and
vital organs. Thus they arise, filling the world.
Thus the Yama death-gods appear as the crystallizations of
the dying person’s vivid guilt and anxious sense of remorse not
only for bad deeds committed, but also for all the negative and
evil impulses that he has repressed.
Hey, noble one! When it happens that such a vision arises, do not be afraid! Do
not feel terror! You have a mental body made of instincts; even if it is killed or
dismembered, it cannot die! S ince in fact you are a natural form of voidness,
anger at being injured is unnecessary! The Yama Lords of Death are but arisen
from the natural energy of your own awareness and really lack all substantiality.
Voidness cannot injure voidness!
Except insofar as they arise from the natural creativity of your own awareness,
you must firmly decide that all that you see—the mild and fierce deities, the
Herukas, the animal-headed angels, the rainbow lights, and the Yama deities—
none is substantially, objectively existent! Once you understand that, then all the
fears and terrors become liberated on the spot, you dissolve into nonduality and
become a Buddha! If you so recognize them, you must feel intense faith,
thinking, “They are my Archetype Deities! They have come to escort me through
the straits of the between! I take refuge in them!”
Be mindful of the Three Jewels! Remember whoever is your Archetype Deity!
Call him or her by name! Pray to him or her, “I am wandering lost in the between
—be my savior! Hold me with your compassion, O precious deity!” Call on your
spiritual teacher by name, praying, “I am wandering lost in the between—be my
savior! For compassion’s sake, do not let me go!” Feel faith in the Heruka Deity
host, and pray to them:
When I wander in the life cycle driven by powerful instincts,
May the host of mild and fierce Lords lead me on the path
Of the clear light that conquers terror-visions of hate and fear!
May the fierce Ishvari goddess hosts back me on the way,
Deliver me from the dangerous straits of the between,
And carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
Now that I wander alone, apart from my loved ones,
And all my visions are but empty images,
May the Buddhas exert the force of their compassion
And stop the fear- and hate-drawn terrors of the between!
When the five lights of brilliant wisdom dawn,
Fearless, bravely, may I know them as myself!
When the forms of the Lords mild and fierce arise,
Bold and fearless, may I recognize the between!
Now when I suffer by the power of negative evolution,
May the Archetype Deities dispel that suffering!
When reality crashes with a thousand thunders,
May they all become OM MANI PADME HUM!
When I’m pulled by evolution without recourse,
May the Compassionate Lord provide me refuge!
When I suffer due to evolutionary instincts,
May the clear light bliss samadhi dawn upon me!
May the five main elements not arise as enemies!
May I behold the pure lands of the five Buddha-clans!
Thus you should pray with intense reverence and faith! It is extremely
important, since your fear and terror will thus disappear and you will surely
become a Buddha in the Beatific Body! Do not waver!
You should read these instructions three or seven times. Thereby, however great the sins,
however negative the evolutionary momentum, it is impossible for the deceased not to
become liberated! Yet, however these are employed, if there is no recognition of the light,
it will be necessary to wander in the third between, the existence between. So the
orientation for it is taught in detail below.
People in general, whether slightly or greatly experienced, feel confusion and panic at
the point of death. There is no recourse for them other than this Great Book of Natural
Liberation Through Understanding in the Between. Those highly familiar with clear light
reality come to the path of reality immediately on the parting of matter and mind. Those
who have recognized the light of reality in their awareness while still alive and have true
realization have the greatest strength when the clear light dawns in the death-point
between. So practice while living is very important! Further, those who while living have
meditated on the creation and perfection stages of Tantric deities have very great strength
when the mild and fierce visions dawn in the reality between. So it is very important
during your life to cultivate your mind with this Book of Natural Liberation. You should
practice this! You should read it! You should recite it! You should understand it! You
should memorize it accurately! You should rehearse it three times a day without fail! You
should become very clear about its words and meaning! You should not forget them even
if chased by a hundred murderers!
This is the Great Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between. Even if a
person who has committed the five unpardonable sins were just to hear it, he would
surely be liberated. Therefore read it in the middle of the great marketplace and spread it
widely. Even if you hear it just once like this and do not yet understand its meaning,
since the intellect becomes nine times clearer in the between, you will remember it at that
time without forgetting even a single word. Therefore, you should proclaim it in the
hearing of all while they are still living. You should read it at the pillow of every sick
person. You should read it beside every corpse. You should spread it extensively.
Whoever encounters this has a very positive destiny. It is very hard for anyone to
encounter this who does not have great stores of merit and wisdom, and who has not
cleared away their emotional and intellectual obscurations. All will be liberated who
understand this, as long as they do not adopt any misguided views. Therefore, this
teaching should be cherished as extremely precious. It is the quintessence of all teachings.
With deep reverence I bow to the Deity host
Of Spiritual M entors, Archetypes, and Angels!
I pray you to free me in the between!
From the Book of Natural Liberation, the reality between has already been taught. Now,
for the existence between, the prayer is to be performed as follows:
The existence between is the between that ensues when a
person has failed to accept the invitation of the five wisdoms in
either calm or terrific forms to leave the ordinary life cycle and
enter into the boundless lifestyle of enlightenment. It is called
“existence” because the appetite for ordinary existence has
determined that, almost inevitably, there will be one. It is still
possible for liberation to be attained, and the guide still urges that
possibility. But there also is a note of concern for the quality of the
coming life. If a further ordinary existence is inevitable, then at
least it should be a good one with favorable circumstances, in a
pleasant environment, with good opportunities for study and
practice of the Dharma teachings and, thereby, evolutionary
You may have already given the reality-between orientation many times, and persons
with great experience and positive evolutionary momentum may have already recognized
the light. Still, people with only slight experience and heavy sins, being caught by terror
and negative evolution, will find it difficult to recognize the light. So from the tenth day
on, you should also perform this prayer of the existence between. You should make
offerings to the Three Jewels. You should recite the prayer Help from the Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas. Then, calling the deceased by name three or seven times, you should say
the following:
Hey, noble one! Listen well, and keep this in your mind! In hell, heaven, and
the between, the body is born by apparition. But when the perceptions of the mild
and fierce deities arose in the reality between, you did not recognize them. S o
after five and a half days, you fainted with terror. Upon awakening, your
awareness became more clear, and you immediately arose in a likeness of your
former body. As it says in the Tantra:
Having the fleshly form of the preceding and emerging
lives, senses all complete, moving unobstructed, with
evolutionary magic powers, one sees similar species with
pure clairvoyance.
The Tantra is not identified, but can be presumed to be one of the
Guhyagarbha tantras. The quotation is treated as if it had
authority; the following sections are presented as commentary on
the passage. It is obviously a locus classicus of description of the
between-state embodiment.
Here “preceding” means that you arise as if in a flesh-and-blood body
determined by the instincts of your preceding life. If you are radiant and have
traces of the auspicious bodily signs and marks of a mythic hero, it is because
your imagination can transform your body; thus, that perceived in the between is
called a “mental body.”
The body in the between is made of subtle energy, like a
holographic image. Thus, the imagination functions concretely to
hold it together. If one has a stabilized and focused imagination,
one can reshape the body just by a thought. Thus, if one’s
instincts during life have been shaped by deep identification with a
mythic archetype, one can easily transform into such a hero in the
between-state. This is the purpose of the creation stage
visualization practices, using various Archetype Deities. It is to
focus and train the imagination so that it can perform a vital, life-
shaping function in this between-state context.
At that time, if you are to be born as a god, you will have visions of the heavens.
If you are to be born as a titan, a human, an animal, a pretan, or a hell-being, you
will have visions of whichever realm you will be born in. “Preceding” here means
that for up to four and a half days you experience yourself as having a fleshly
body of your previous life with its habitual instincts. “Emerging” means that you
begin to have visions of the place where you are heading for rebirth. S o much for
“preceding and emerging.”
Therefore, do not follow after every vision that happens. Don’t be attached to it!
Don’t adhere to it! If you are stubborn and attached to all of them, you will roam
in suffering through the six realms. Up until yesterday, the visions of the reality
between dawned for you, but you did not recognize them. S o you have had to
wander here now. S o now, if, without wavering, you can develop recognition, the
spiritual teacher’s orientation can open your awareness of the clear light, the
naked, pure, vibrant void. Enter into it, relax into the experience of nonholding,
nondoing! Without having to enter a womb, you will be liberated.
If you do not recognize the light, then meditate that your spiritual teacher or
Archetype Deity is present on the crown of your head, and devote yourself totally
with a strong force of faith. It is so important! Do it without wavering, again and
So you should say. If the deceased recognizes the light at this point, she will not wander
in the six realms, and will be liberated.
If the power of negative evolution still makes recognition of the light difficult, you
should again speak as follows:
Hey, noble one! Listen without your mind wandering! “S enses all complete,
moving unobstructed” means that even if in life you were blind, deaf, crippled,
and so on, now in the between, your eyes clearly discern forms, your ears hear
sounds, and so forth. Your senses become flawlessly clear and complete; so,
“senses all complete.” Recognize this as a sign that you have died and are
wandering in the between! Remember your personal instructions!
Hey, noble one! What is “unobstructed” is your mental body; your awareness is
free from embodiment and you lack a solid body. S o now you can move hither and
thither everywhere, through walls, houses, land, rocks, and earth, even through
Meru, the axial mountain; except through a mother’s womb and the Vajra Throne
at Bodhgaya. This is a sign that you are wandering in the existence between, so
remember the instructions of your spiritual teacher! Pray to the Lord of Great
The between-being cannot pass through a mother’s womb
because that is the place where he or she will take rebirth—a
being that can go through mountains cannot get through that
delicate membrane. The Vajra throne at Bodhgaya is the place
where Supreme Emanation Body Buddhas attain enlightenment in
this world, and the place is believed to have a special physical
density as well as a special sanctity. So no between-being can
pass through it.
Hey, noble one! “With evolutionary magic powers” means that you, who have
no special abilities or meditational magic powers whatsoever, now have magic
powers arising as the result of your evolution. In a split second, you can circle this
four-continent planet with its axial mountain. You now have the power just to
think about any place you wish and you will arrive there in that very instant. You
can reach anywhere and return just as a normal man stretches out and pulls back
his arm. But these various magic powers are not so miraculous; if you don’t
specially need them, ignore them! You should not worry about whether or not you
can manifest this or that, which you may think of. The fact is you have the ability
to manifest anything without any obstruction. You should recognize this as a sign
of the existence between! You should pray to your spiritual teacher!
The person in the between-state naturally has all these
supernormal abilities. However, they should not become a
diversion, a distraction from the main issue of the between, the
opportunity to attain liberation from the compulsive lifestyle by
confronting the nature of reality; or at least, the opportunity to
obtain a new life favorable to such an attainment, avoiding any
horrid states or lives shorn of liberty and opportunity.
Hey, noble one! “One sees similar species with pure clairvoyance” means that
beings of the same species in the between can see each other. Thus if some beings
are of the same species, all going to be reborn as gods, they will see each other.
Likewise, other beings of the same species, to be reborn in whichever of the six
realms, will see each other. S o you should not be attached to such encounters!
Meditate on the Lord of Great Compassion!
“With pure clairvoyance” refers also to the vision of those whose pure
clairvoyance has been developed by the practice of contemplation, as well as to the
vision of those whose divine power of merit has developed it. But such yogis or
deities cannot always see between-beings. They see them only when they will to
see them, and not when they do not, or when their contemplation is distracted.
If a clairvoyant were forced to perceive all between-beings
around, she would have no time to see anything else. Infinite
numbers of beings of all species are dying and traversing the
between all the time, and their subtle embodiments can effortlessly
penetrate solid objects, or coexist in the same coarse space with
other things. Therefore, they are everywhere evident to one with
clairvoyant abilities, whether natural or developed. What many
cultures refer to as “ghosts” clearly fit the description of the
between-state wanderer (which is why the pretan, who has
become reborn in that horrid form, should not be translated
“hungry ghost”). Indeed, the hero in the recent film Ghost is
presented as having many of the characteristics of the betweenbeing.
Hey, noble one! As you have such a ghostly body, you encounter relatives and
familiar places as if in a dream. When you meet these relatives, though you
communicate with them, they do not answer. When you see your relatives and
dear ones crying, you will think, “Now I have died, what can I do?” You feel a
searing pain, like a fish flopping in hot sand. But however greatly you suffer,
tormenting yourself at this time does not help. If you have a spiritual teacher,
pray to your spiritual teacher. Or else pray to the compassionate Archetype Deity.
Don’t be attached to your loved ones—it is useless. Pray to the Compassionate
Ones, and do not suffer or be terrified!
Hey, noble one! Driven by the swift wind of evolution, your mind is helpless
and unstable, riding the horse of breath like a feather blown on the wind,
spinning and fluttering. You tell the mourners, “Don’t cry! Here I am!” They
take no notice, and you realize you have died, and you feel great anguish. Now do
not indulge in your pain! There is a constant twilight, gray as the predawn
autumn sky, neither day nor night. That kind of between can last for one, two,
three, four, five, six, or seven weeks—up to forty-nine days. Though it is said that
for most people the suffering of the existence between lasts twenty-one days, this
is not always certain due to people’s different evolutionary histories.
This disclaimer of precision in timing comes as something of a
relief. The time in the death-point between has been mentioned
above as seeming to be four and a half days of unconsciousness
to the ordinary person, though developed practitioners can
prolong it indefinitely. Then there are twelve days mentioned in the
reality between. If you add the twenty-one days of the existence
between, you have a total of thirty-seven and a half days. Then
there is the traditional number of forty-nine days, mentioned in
various Buddhist sources. The bottom line is that waking-reality
time-lines cannot convey with precision the experience of the
Now begins the experience of the existence between. The
fierce deity apparitions in the reality between were interventions
by the compassionate deities into a level of the person’s
consciousness where primal impulses were lodged. Powerful
emotions were stirred up in those areas of being. Now, the
person’s conviction about the substantiality of reality and
attachment to the ordinary, delusion-driven lifestyle have been so
persistent that a further birth in the realm of ordinary existence
appears imminent. It is only natural then, that this threshold is
attended by psychic simulations of the most dramatic and
terrifying sort of experiences.
Hey, noble one! At this time the great red wind of evolution will drive you from
behind, fiercely, unbearably, terrifyingly. Don’t be afraid of it! It is your own
hallucination! A frightening thick darkness draws you from the front, irresistibly.
You are terrified by harsh cries, such as “S trike!” “Kill!” Don’t be afraid of
them! Heavy sinners will see cannibal ogres brandishing many weapons, shouting
war cries, “Kill! Kill!” and “S trike! S trike!” You will see ferocious wild animals.
You will be hunted by troops in blizzards, storms, and fogs. You will hear sounds
of avalanches, flood waters, forest fires, and hurricanes. In panic you will escape
by any means, only to stop short on the brink of falling down a yawning triple
abyss, red, black, and white, bottomless and horrifying.
Hey, noble one! It is not really an abyss. It is lust, hate, and delusion. You
should recognize this as the moment of the existence between! Call upon the
Lord of Great Compassion, and pray intensely, “O Lord of Great Compassion!
S piritual teacher! Three Jewels! I am named S o-and-so—please don’t abandon
me to the horrid states! Don’t forget me!”
Those who have gathered merit, virtuous and sincere in Dharma practice, are
entertained with various delights and enjoy various excellent pleasures. And
those dominated by delusion, who have neither strong virtue nor strong vice, have
neither happiness nor suffering, but feel only stupefaction and indifference.
O noble one, whatever happens along those lines, don’t crave! Don’t long for
pleasures or joys! Offer them all to the jewel of the spiritual teacher! Abandon
attachment to them! Even without any visions of pleasure or pain, with only
feelings of indifference, set the mind on the experience of the Great S eal, free of
both concentration and distraction! That is most important.
Hey, noble one! At that time, structures such as bridges, temples, cathedrals,
huts, and stupas will seem to shelter you for a moment—but don’t cling to them
at length. S ince your mind lacks a body, it cannot settle down. You feel cold, you
become angry and distraught, and your awareness seems erratic, volatile, and
unsteady. Then you will have the thought, “Now I have died—what can I do!” Your
heart will feel cold and weak. You will feel fierce and boundless suffering. The
fact is you must travel and cannot be attached to any one place. S o don’t worry
about it, and let your mind come to rest.
From now on you have no food except for what is dedicated for you. There is no
certainty about your friends. These are signs of your mental body wandering in
the existence between. Your present joys and sorrows are determined by your
evolution. When you see your lands, friends, loved ones, and your own corpse, and
you think, “Now I have died, what can be done?” at that time, your mental body
feels greatly stressed.
The guide here implicitly accepts the magical efficacy of food
ritually dedicated to a deceased person, that a portion of food set
out for the recently deceased can provide the between-state
embodiment a sense of nourishment. The guide reminds the
deceased that her body is mental, made by pure imagery. Her
sensation of feeling hungry, weak, and distressed is purely mental.
You think, “How nice it would be to have a new body!” Then you will have
visions of looking everywhere for a body. Even if you try up to nine times to enter
your old corpse, due to the length of the reality between, in the winter it will have
frozen, in the summer it will have rotted. Otherwise, your loved ones will have
burned it or buried it or given it to birds and beasts, so it affords no place to
inhabit. You will feel sick at heart, and will have visions of being squeezed
between boulders, stones, and dirt. This kind of suffering is in the nature of the
existence between. Even if you find a body, there will be nothing other than such
suffering. S o give up longing for a body! Focus yourself undistractedly in the
experience of creative nonaction!
Having been oriented in this way, she can attain liberation in this between.
If by the force of negative evolution she does not recognize the light of reality in spite of
being so oriented, you should again call the deceased by name and say the following:
Hey, noble one! You named S o-and-so, listen to me! This suffering of yours
comes from your own evolutionary acts; there is no one else to blame. It is your
own evolution, so pray strongly to the Three Jewels. They can protect you. If you
don’t pray to them, don’t know how to meditate on the Great S eal, and don’t
meditate on an Archetype Deity, then your native angel will count out a white
stone for each virtue you accumulated, and your native demon will count out a
black stone for every sin.
This refers to the popular belief in Buddhist societies,
probably from ancient tradition, that each person has a personal
angel and a personal demon who are born together with him, who
push for good and evil, respectively, and count out his good and
evil deeds. These then turn informers after death, and count out
the person’s tally of good and evil acts before the tribunal of
Yama, Lord of Death.
Then you will be very worried, angry, and terrified. Trembling, you will lie,
saying, “I committed no sins!” But then Yama, the Judge of the Dead, will say, “I
will look into the mirror of evolution!” When he looks into the mirror of
evolution, all your sins and virtues will clearly and distinctly appear therein. Your
lies will not help. Yama will tie a rope around your neck and lead you away. He
will cut off your head, rip out your heart, pull out your guts, lick your brains,
drink your blood, eat your flesh, and gnaw your bones. But since you cannot die,
even though your body is cut to pieces, you revive again. Being cut up again and
again, you will suffer immense pain.
S o when the white stones are being counted, don’t be afraid, don’t panic, do not
lie! Don’t fear Yama! Your body is mental, so even if it is killed and cut up, you
cannot die. In fact, your form is the void itself, so you have nothing to fear. The
Yama-deities are your own hallucinations and themselves are forms of the void.
Your own instinctual mental body is void. Voidness cannot harm voidness.
S ignlessness cannot harm signlessness. You should recognize that there is
nothing other than your own hallucination. There is no external, substantially
existent Yama, angel, demon, or bull-headed ogre, and so on. You must recognize
all this as the between!
Two levels of reassurance are contained here. First is the
relative or circumstantial reassurance, that the dreamlike, mental
body of the between has no coarse flesh, blood, or nerves, and
therefore cannot be hurt as substantially as can a coarse reality
body. The second is more profound, and provides reassurance on
the ultimate level. In the nondual reality wherein form or matter is
voidness, and voidness is form or matter, all things are what they
are only because the routinized imagination perceives them to be
so. All experiences are like a dream, none of them are intrinsically
substantial, and so a liberated person can reshape his environment
and experience as easily as a dreamer can imagine himself out of a
nightmare. All that is necessary is for the dreamer to become
conscious that he is in a dream, and either reshape the dream into
a better state or else simply awaken.
Meditate on the samadhi of the Great S eal!
Here meditation in the ultimate nonduality of form and
voidness, in the form of bliss-void indivisible, is recommended,
just for good measure.
If you don’t know how to meditate, examine carefully whatever terrifies you
and see the voidness that is its lack of objective status. That is the Natural Body
of Truth. And that voidness is not merely an annihilation. Your triumphant,
distinct awareness of the terror of the void is itself the blissful mind of the Body
of Beatitude. Voidness and clarity are indistinguishable; the actuality of the void
is clarity, the actuality of clarity is voidness. Your awareness of voidness-clarity
indivisible is stripped naked, and now you abide in the unfabricated experience.
That is the Wisdom Body of Truth. And that spontaneously and unobstructedly
arises anywhere. And that is the Body of Compassionate Emanation.
This is a brief instruction in the most advanced form of
understanding and meditation, the Great Perfection or Great Seal.
In normal reality, it would be pointless to instruct a person gripped
with terror in such an exalted awareness. For the between-being,
however, the guide feels it worthwhile to bring this up, since the
between-consciousness is so radically mutable and transformable,
and there is always the chance that the between-being can
instantly shift straight into the utter actuality of her own reality. As
for the Four Bodies of Buddhahood, it is developed from the
Three Bodies by dividing the Truth Body into subjective, wisdom,
and objective, natural, aspects.
Hey, noble one! Behold this without wavering! Recognize it! You will definitely
become a Buddha, the perfection of the Four Bodies. Do not be distracted! This is
the borderline between a Buddha and an ordinary being. Now is the time
described as, “One instant alienated, one instant perfectly enlightened.”
Until yesterday you were given to distraction, you did not recognize what arose
as the between, and you were gripped by so much terror. If you again surrender to
distraction, the cord of compassion will be cut and you will go into the abodes that
lack all freedom; so be careful!
This is the first time there has been a mention of “cutting of the
cord of compassion.” The guide here is trying to stir up the
consciousness of the between-being, which so far has still refused
to awaken from involvement in the ordinary life-impulse. Perhaps
unconsciously he is relying on the compassion of the enlightened
beings, thinking that they will save him whatever he does. So the
guide is indicating that the connection with the enlightened beings
can be experientially severed by persistent delusion on the
between-being’s part.
If you orient them in this way, even those who did not recognize before will now
recognize the light of reality and will be liberated. If the deceased had lived as a negative
person, and does not know how to reflect in such a way, you should say again;
Hey, noble one! If you don’t know to meditate thus, then remember and pray to
the Buddha, the Dharma, the S angha, and the Compassionate Lords.
Contemplate all the terrors and visions as the Compassionate Lord or your own
Archetype Deity. Remember your esoteric initiation name and the spiritual
teacher who gave you the initiations you received in the human realm; proclaim
them to Yama, the Lord of Truth! You won’t be injured even if you fall off cliffs, so
abandon fear and hate!
When you pronounce this orientation, those still unliberated will become liberated.
As it is still possible the deceased will not recognize the light and will not be liberated,
and because persistence is important, call the deceased by name again and say as follows:
The present visions will propel you into the hardship of the changing states of
pleasure and pain, as if flung by a catapult. S o do not become absorbed in any
visions of love or hate! Even when you are about to be born in the higher estates,
when the visions of the higher estates arise, should the relatives you have left
behind begin to make sacrifices with the slaughter of living beings, to dedicate
them to the Lord of Death, you will have many impure visions and begin to feel
fierce anger.
In some religions, people sacrifice animals out of the
conviction that the life of the animal can be offered to a dread
deity as a substitute for the life of a loved one, usually living and
perhaps threatened by illness or other danger. It may also be
considered in some societies that the offering of an animal life to a
protective deity can influence positively the destiny of a deceased
loved one. Buddhism has always abhorred such practices,
considering them to accomplish the opposite of the desired effect.
They harm the animal sacrificed, of course, award to the sacrificer
the negative effect of the sin of killing, and cause even more harm
to the supposed beneficiary, by stirring up their own negative
emotions. In Tibet, some of the followers of some forms of the
Bon religion, or else certain tribespeople on the frontiers who still
follow animistic practices, might perform or commission such an
animal sacrifice.
Conditioned by that, you will be reborn in hell. S o no matter what actions are
committed among the surviving, do not become angry, but contemplate love! Or, if
you yourself have great attachment to the wealth and possessions you left behind,
or if you know that others are using your possessions, you will feel attached to
them and angry at the people who are using them. Conditioned by that, even
though you might have attained the high estates, you will be reborn in hell or in
the pretan realm. Therefore, even if you are attached to your old possessions, you
have no power to own them anymore. They are of no use to you at all. Abandon
fondness and attachment for your possessions left behind! Totally throw them
away! Be decisive! Whoever uses your things, don’t be stingy! Let go of them in
your mind! Generate a one-pointed will to offer them to the spiritual teacher and
the Three Jewels, and abide in the experience of detachment and unconcern!
When death rites, such as exorcistic food-offering rites, or other rites that
purify the dangers of the horrid states, are performed for your sake, and, with
your subtle evolutionary clairvoyance, you perceive the performers being
inaccurate, sleepy, or distracted, breaking their vows and commitments, and
acting carelessly, and you notice their lack of faith, distorted views, fearful
negative actions, and impure practices, then you think, “Alas! These people are
betraying me. They are surely letting me down!” You become depressed, you
become disgusted. You lose your positive attitude and all respect and you become
cynical and disillusioned. Conditioned by that you will be reborn in the horrid
states, and thus their actions, rather than helping you, will harm you greatly. S o
whatever your surviving relatives perform in the way of incorrect religious rites,
you must think, “Well, my perception is certainly imperfect! How can any
impurity adhere to the Buddha’s Teaching? I see these as a result of my own
negative attitude, like seeing the mirror’s faults as if in my own form. The bodies
of these performers are the S angha, their speech is the Holy Dharma, their
minds are the actual Buddha—so I must take refuge in them!” S o you must
respect them and project your most positive attitude upon them. Then whatever
your dear ones do for you will definitely help you. S uch keeping of a positive
attitude is very important, so do it without forgetting!
Again, even if you are heading for rebirth in the three horrid states, when the
visions of the horrid states arise, when you see the pure virtue, unsullied with
sins, performed by your surviving relatives, and when you see the perfect
physical, verbal, and mental practices of your spiritual teachers and mentors,
then, when you are compelled to rebirth, your feeling of great delight has the
invaluable benefit of lifting you up into the higher estates just as you were about
to be reborn in the horrid states. S o be very careful, as it is so important for you
to construct a positive attitude of reverence and faith and not allow any place for
impure negativity of perception.
Hey, noble one! In short, since your present between-consciousness is highly
unstable, volatile, and mobile, and virtuous or vicious perception is very powerful,
don’t think at all about any un-virtuous evolution, and remember your own
virtuous practice. If you have no virtuous practice, then adopt a positive perception
and feel faith and reverence. Pray to your Archetype Deity and to the Lord of
Compassion! With intense willpower, perform this prayer!
Now that I wander alone, without my loved ones,
And all my visions are but empty images,
May the Buddhas exert the force of their compassion
And stop the fear- and hate-drawn terrors of the between!
Now, when I suffer by the power of negative evolution,
May my Archetype Deities dispel my suffering!
When reality crashes with a thousand thunders,
May they all become OM MANI PADME HUM!
When I’m pulled by evolution without recourse,
May the Lords mild and fierce dispel my suffering!
When I suffer due to evolutionary instincts,
May clear light bliss samadhi arise for me!
Thus perform this fervent prayer! It will surely guide you on the path. It is
crucial that you decide it is sure not to let you down!
When you say this, the deceased should become aware, recognize the light, and attain
Even though you say this many times, it may still be hard for recognition to arise, due to
the power of strong negative evolution. There is great benefit in further repetition.
Calling the deceased by name, you should say as follows:
Hey, noble one! If you have not recognized the clear light by remembering what
we have already said, from now your sense of your body from the preceding life
will become vague, and your sense of your body of the emerging life will become
more distinct. Then you will feel sad and think, “I am suffering so—now I will
seek whatever body comes along!” Then you will move toward whatever appears,
gradually and uncertainly, and the six lights of the six realms will dawn. The
realm toward which evolution impels your rebirth will dawn most clearly.
Hey, noble one! Listen to me! What are the six lights? The dull white light of
the gods will dawn; and also the red light of the titans, the blue light of the
humans, the green light of the animals, the yellow light of the pretans, and the
dull smoky light of the hells—all these will dawn. These are the six lights. S o
your body’s color will become that of the light of the realm of rebirth.
Hey, noble one! At that time the essence of the instruction is very important.
Contemplate the particular light that arises as the Lord of Great Compassion!
When the light arises, hold the thought, “It is the Lord of Great Compassion.”
This is the extremely profound key of instruction. This is crucial to block rebirth.
One of the six dull lights emerges in the deceased’s awareness
at this point, to indicate the realm of his rebirth. The trick here is
not to accept that light as leading to that realm, but to align that
light itself with the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the Lord of Great
Compassion (Jesus for the Christian, Krishna for the Hindu, the
Prophet for the Moslem, the most beloved figure for the
Again, meditate long and carefully that, whoever your Archetype Deity is, he or
she appears like a magic illusion, lacking intrinsic reality. It is called the “pure
Magic Body.” Then, contemplate that Archetype Deity as dissolving from the
edges inward, and enter the experience of not holding rigidly to the insubstantial,
the clear light of voidness. Again contemplate that as the Archetype Deity! Again
contemplate it as clear light! Thus meditating deity and clear light in alternation,
then let your own awareness dissolve from the edges; where space pervades, let
awareness pervade. Where awareness pervades, let the Truth Body pervade. Enter
comfortably into the experience of the ceaseless nonproliferation of the Truth
Having aligned the dull light of one of the realms with the Lord
of Compassion, here the deceased is instructed in something more
advanced, in contemplating the nonduality of the supreme
integration of magic body and clear light. He contemplates the
form of the archetype deity as magic illusion, as a dream
apparition. He then dissolves the image into transparency and
contemplates that as the deity. He then alternates contemplating
the deity as magic body and as transparency, oscillating toward
contemplating their nonduality. He then contemplates his
subjective awareness of deity-transparency integration as itself
dissolving, contemplating the nonduality of insentient space and
awareness, voidness and clarity. He then rests in the inconceivable
integration of the Truth Body as the integration of voidness and
awareness, magic body and clear light. The Truth Body does not
proliferate or fabricate anything because it already is everything—
it is the actual reality of everything in every possible state. Again,
Padma Sambhava guides even the most ordinary between-being
in the highest possible meditation, showing that he takes most
seriously the concept that a person’s between-awareness is nine
times more intelligent than his ordinary coarse awareness of the
previous life.
From within that experience, rebirth is prevented and enlightenment is attained.
Those whose practice was weak and inexpert will still not recognize the light. They will
err and wander to the door of a womb. Since for them the instruction about blocking the
door of the womb is very important, call the deceased by name and say as follows:
Hey, noble one! If you have not understood from the above, at this time, by
power of evolution the vision will arise of your proceeding upward, on the level, or
downward with head hanging. Now meditate on the Lord of Great Compassion!
Remember him! Then, as already explained, you will have visions of hurricanes,
blizzards, hailstorms, dense fogs, and being chased by many men, and you will
seem to escape. Those without merit will seem to escape to a miserable place, but
those with merit will seem to escape to a happy place. At that time, noble one, all
the signs will arise showing the continent and place where you will be reborn. For
this time there are many profound keys of instruction, so listen carefully! Even
though you did not recognize freedom from the previous keys of orientation, here
even those of the weakest practice can recognize freedom through the following
keys, so listen!
Now, here, the method of blocking the womb door is very effective and
important. There are two methods of blocking that door; blocking the entering
person and blocking the womb door entered. First, the instruction for blocking
the enterer.
“Blocking the womb door” refers to using the Natural
Liberation art—relaxed focusing on the presence of the
archetype or patron deity as indivisible from the natural
transparency of all things—as a way of intervening in the
mechanical processes of assuming rebirth.
Hey, noble one! You named S o-and-so! Clearly visualize your Archetype Deity
appearing like magic without intrinsic reality like the moon in water. If you are
unsure about your Archetype Deity, then vividly envision Avalokiteshvara,
thinking, “He is the Lord of Great Compassion!” Then dissolve the Archetype
from the edges and contemplate the void clear light transparency of ultimate
nonperception. That is the profound key. Using it, the Buddhas said, the womb
will not be entered; so meditate in that way!
But if this still does not block the way and you are just about to enter a womb,
there is the profound instruction to block the door of the womb about to be
entered. S o listen! Repeat after me the following from The Root Verses of the Six
Hey! Now when the existence between dawns upon me,
I will hold my will with mind one-pointed,
And increase forcefully the impulse of positive evolution;
Blocking the womb door, I will remember to be revulsed.
Now courage and positive perception are essential;
I will give up envy, and contemplate all couples
As my S piritual Mentor, Father and Mother.
Repeat this loud and clear and stir your memory. It is important to meditate on
its meaning and put it into practice. As for its meaning, “Now when the existence
between dawns upon me” means that you are now wandering within the existence
between. A sign of that is that when you look in water you will not see your
reflection. You have no shadow. You have no substantial flesh-and-blood body.
These are signs that your mental body is wandering in the existence between.
Now you must hold one-pointed in your mind the unwavering willpower. This
one-pointed will is of chief importance. It is like reins to guide a horse. You can
achieve whatever your will intends, so don’t open your mind to negative
evolution, but remember the teachings, instructions, initiations, authorizations,
and inspirations you received in the human realm, such as this Great Book of
Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between, and intensify the result
of all good evolutionary actions. This is very important. Don’t forget it! Don’t be
distracted! This is the exact time that determines whether you go up or you go
down. Now is the time when indulgence in laziness definitely will bring on
suffering. Now is the time when one-pointed positive willpower definitely brings
on happiness. Hold one-pointed goodwill in your mind! S ustain forcefully the
result of good action!
Now is the time to block the door of the womb! As the root verse says, blocking
the womb door, remember to be revulsed! Now courage and positive perception are
essential! That time is now. You should block the door of the womb. There are five
methods to block the womb door; fix them well in your mind.
Hey, noble one! At this time you will have visions of couples making love.
When you see them, don’t enter between them, but stay mindful. Visualize the
males and females as the Teacher, Father and Mother, prostrate to them, and
make them visualized offerings! Feel intense reverence and devotion! Aim a
strong will to request them to teach the Dharma, and the womb door will
definitely be blocked.
If that does not block it, and you are about to enter the womb, then visualize
them as Mentor Father-Mother, Archetype Deity Father and Mother, or
Compassion Lord Father and Mother. Offer them visualized offerings! Form the
powerful intention to receive spiritual attainments from them, and that will block
the womb door.
If that does not block it, and you are again about to enter a womb, then third
there is the instruction for reversing lust and hate. There are four modes of birth;
egg birth, womb birth, magic birth, and warm-moisture birth. Egg birth and womb
birth are alike. As before, you begin to see males and females engaged in lovemaking. If you enter the womb under the influence of lust and hate, whether you
are reborn as horse, bird, dog, or human, if you are going to be male, you arise
appearing to be male; you feel strong hate toward the father, and attraction and
lust toward the mother. If you are going to be female, you appear as a female; you
feel strong envy and jealousy toward the mother, you feel strong longing and lust
for the father. Conditioned by that, you enter the path of the womb. You
experience orgasmic bliss in the center of the union between white and red drops,
and within the experience of that bliss you faint and lose consciousness. Your
body develops through the embryonic stages of “custard,” “gelatin,” and so forth.
Eventually you will be born outside the mother’s womb. Once your eyes are open,
you realize you have been born a puppy. Having been a human, now you are a dog.
In the dog’s kennel, you suffer. Or in the pig’s sty, or in the anthill, or in the
wormhole, or in the herds of cows or goats or sheep—born there you cannot
return to the human state. Being extremely stupid, in the state of delusion you
suffer various miseries. In this way you will cycle through the hells and the
pretan realms, and will be tortured by limitless suffering. There is nothing more
powerful, nothing more terrible than this. Alas! Alas! Those lacking the holy
spiritual teacher’s instruction fall down this deep abyss into the life cycle. They
are tormented uninterruptedly by unbearable sufferings. S o listen to what I say!
Hold my personal instruction in your mind!
Now I will teach you an instruction to close the womb door by reversing lust
and hate. Listen to it and remember it! As the verse says:
Blocking the door of the womb, I will remember to be revulsed.
Now courage and positive perception are essential;
I will give up envy and contemplate all couples
As my S piritual Mentor, Father and Mother.
As before, you will have strong feelings of envy; if reborn as a male, you will
lust for the mother and hate the father, if reborn as a female you will lust for the
father and hate the mother. For that time, there is this profound instruction.
Hey, noble one! When such lust and hate arise, meditate like this. “Alas! S uch
a creature of negative evolution as myself will wander in the life cycle under the
influence of lust and hate. If I still persist in lust and hate, I will know no end to
my wanderings. I am in danger of being sunk forever in the ocean of miseries.
Now I must give up lust and hate entirely. Alas! I must hold intensely the onepointed will never to entertain lust and hate.” The Tantras state that this
meditation itself will close the door of the womb.
Hey, noble one! Don’t waver! Hold your will one pointed in your mind! Even
though you have done that, if the womb door did not close and you are about to
enter the womb, you should block the womb door by the instruction of truthless
magical illusion. Meditate as follows: “Male and female, father and mother, the
thunderstorm, the hurricane, the thunder, terrifying visions, all phenomena are
naturally like magical illusions. However they arise, they are truthless. All
things are untrue and false. Like mirages. Impermanent. Noneternal. Why be
attached to them? Why fear and hate them? It is to see nothing as something. All
of these are but visions of my mind. The mind itself is as originally nonexistent
as a magical illusion. S o where—out there—do they come from? S ince I never
understood this in the past, I held the nonexistent to exist. I held the untrue to be
true. I held illusion as truth. S o for this long time I wandered in the life cycle. If I
still now do not recognize the illusoriness of things, I will wander even longer in
the life cycle, and I will be stuck in the quicksand of various miseries. S o now I
will recognize all these things as like a dream, a magical illusion, an echo, a fairy
city, a mirage, a reflection, an optical illusion, the moon in water, lacking even a
moment’s truth-status, definitely untrue, and false.”
“Truth-status” is the state of something’s existing by virtue of
its intrinsic reality. If things were not empty, if they existed by
virtue of a fixed, absolute, real core, then that core would be
discovered by truth-seeking scientific awareness and those things
would be acknowledged as possessing “truth-status.” The
involuntary habit of all beings is to assume that things do have
such status. When we see a thing, it seems to us to exist in its own
right, as an independently established thing-in-itself. This habitual
perception is called our “truth-habit.” It is equivalent to our
misknowledge, the root of all our delusionary existence. The
Buddha’s key liberative insight is that all things lack such truthstatus, and that therefore our truth-habits are misguided. Our
experience of this is called wisdom, and is the antidote for our
delusionary grasping at life. Freedom from truth-habits does not
mean that our consciousness is annihilated, only that it is less
grasping, less dominating, allowing things to be the relative,
fleeting, dreamlike, fluid things that they are, and not insisting that
they conform rigidly to our set of preconceived categories. This is
the most advanced teaching of all. Though it is not complicated, it
is emotionally challenging, as releasing the habitual perception of
truth-status in things can be frightening, can feel like succumbing
to annihilation. Yet Padma Sambhava again uses these advanced
teachings for between-beings, considering their extreme
malleability, their ninefold intelligence, and their unique
Thus, holding these thoughts one-pointedly in mind, the truth-habit erodes,
and, as the resulting freedom is impressed in your continuum, the deeper selfhabit is reversed. As you thus deeply understand cosmic unreality, the womb door
will definitely be blocked.
Yet even doing that, if the truth-habit does not erode, the womb door is not
blocked, and you are about to enter the womb, again there is a profound
Hey, noble one! Even doing that, if the womb door is not blocked, now, fifth, you
should block the womb door by meditating on the clear light. This is how to
contemplate. “Hey! All things are my own mind. That mind is voidness, free of
creation and destruction.” Thinking thus, do not artificially compose your mind.
Like water being poured in water, let the mind flow into its own reality condition;
release it into its own nature. Letting it relax easily and openly will decisively
and definitely block the womb door for all four forms of rebirth. Thus meditate
again and again until the womb door is blocked.
Up to here, you have given many authentic and profound instructions for blocking the
womb door. Using them, it should be impossible for any person, whether bright,
mediocre, or dull, not to become liberated. Why is that? The deceased’s betweenconsciousness has a mundane form of clairvoyance, so whatever you say, it can
understand, experience, and embody. Even if persons were deaf and blind in life, in the
between their faculties are complete and they can understand whatever you say. They
have hypermindfulness, being constantly overwhelmed by terror and panic, so they
always listen to what you say. Their consciousness is without coarse embodiment, so
wherever they aim their will, they reach immediately; they are easy to direct. Since their
intelligence is nine times more clear, even if persons were stupid in life, in the between,
by the power of evolution, their intellect is extremely clear, and they have the quality of
knowing how to meditate on whatever they understand. These are the key reasons why
it is useful to perform prayers and rites of teaching for the deceased. They can be very
important for them. And it is very important to make the effort to read this Book of
Natural Liberation during the nine days after death. If the deceased is not liberated by
means of one orientation, he or she will be liberated by another. That is why there are
many different orientations.
Still, there are many beings who, due to slight familiarity with virtue, great, primal
familiarity with nonvirtue, and powerful sins and dense obscurations, though they are
confronted by such concerns and hear the previous orientations, have not become
liberated. If the womb door was not already blocked, you should teach them from now
on the instructions on how to choose a womb. First, recite the prayer Help from the
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas; take refuge in the Three Jewels, and conceive the spirit of
enlightenment. Then call the deceased three times by name, and say the following:
Hey, noble one! You, the deceased named S o-and-so, listen to me! All the
previous instructions for orientation have been given to you and still you do not
understand. Now, since the womb door is not blocked, it is time to assume a body.
You have many different authentic and profound instructions for the choosing of a
womb. Hold them in your mind! Listen well with strong intent, and hold them in
your mind!
The instructions on choosing a womb are full of allusions to
the ancient Buddhist cosmology, in which the planet consists of
four main continents radiating outward from an axial mountain,
with eight subcontinents, all sitting within a huge surrounding
ocean, ringed by numerous iron mountain ranges. The pretan and
hell realms are far beneath the base of the mountain, and the many
realms of the heavens radiate upward from the upper slopes of
the mountain. This picture can be related to modern, round-planet
cosmology, by thinking of the earth’s axis as the axial mountain,
and the continents around the globe radiating outward from it. We
can think of Videha, the eastern continent of the ancient
cosmology, as Oceania, including Japan, the Philippines,
Indonesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, down to New Zealand and
Australia; Jambudvipa, the southern continent, corresponds to
Asia in general, though it sometimes refers to the Indian
subcontinent alone; western Godaniya to the Middle East,
Europe, and Africa; and northern Kuru to the ancient Americas,
around the planet from India, at that time places of peace, long
life, and comfortable prosperity, but little opportunity to attain
ultimate liberation.
Hey, noble one! Now signs and marks will arise about which continent you will
be reborn in—recognize them! Now you should explore where to be reborn, you
should choose a continent. If you are reborn in eastern Videha, you will see lakes
and waters adorned with male and female geese. Think of renunciation and do
not go there. If you are born there, your situation will be comfortable; but you
should not go there as the Dharma is not available there. If you are going to be
reborn in the southern Jambudvipa, you will see beautiful and comfortable
houses. If you can go there do so. If you are to be reborn in western Godaniya, you
will see lakes adorned with male and female horses. Turn back and do not go
there. Although it is very enjoyable, the Dharma has not spread there, so do not
go there. If you are going to be reborn in northern Kuru, you see lakes adorned
with cattle or with evergreen trees. Recognize these as signs of being reborn
there. Do not go there! Though you will have long life and much fortune there,
the Dharma is not available there. Do not go there!
If you are to be reborn as a god, you will see delightful, divine, multistoried
mansions made of various jewels. It is alright to dwell there, so you may enter
there. If you are to be reborn as a titan, you will see a pleasant grove and spinning
wheels of fire; remember renunciation, and by all means do not go there! If you
are to be reborn among the animals you will see caves, ant holes, and grass huts,
as if through a fog. Do not go there! If you are to be reborn as a pretan, you will
see charred stumps, black spots, dark ravines, darkness, and shadows. If you go
there, reborn as a pretan, you will experience various sufferings of hunger and
thirst. S o don’t go there! Remember renunciation! Be fiercely courageous! If you
are to be reborn in the hells, you will hear the songs of negative evolution, or you
will feel a helpless need to go there, and you will have visions of an island of
darkness, a black house or a red house, black pits, and black roads. If you go
there, you will be stuck in the hells. You will experience unbearable pains of heat
and cold. You will never escape. You must take every care not to get caught there!
By any means, never enter there at all! “Block the womb door and remember
renunciation!” Now is the time when that is essential.
Padma Sambhava seems almost to have given up getting the
between-being released from the ordinary life cycle into clear light
transparency, and is resigned to his being reborn. When he orders
the deceased, “Don’t go there!” about one of the unpleasant or
horrid states, he is calling for a final act of will and courage, a
summoning of the power of renunciation, to recoil from the
prospect of such a terrifying rebirth. He is quite aware, however,
that a between-being still caught in the currents of habitual drives
and evolutionary momentum from former acts will not easily be
able to reverse course at this point, not without heroic effort.
Hey, noble one! Though you might wish not to go on, helplessly you are chased
by the butchers of evolution. You find yourself powerless to stop, you must go on.
Ahead of you are butchers and killers to drag you along. You will feel as if you are
fleeing from overwhelming darkness, hurricanes, tempests, harsh noises, snow
and rain, hailstorms, thunderstorms, and violent blizzards. Escaping in panic, you
will seek a refuge, and you will feel safe in the previously mentioned beautiful
houses, in rock caves, in earthen caverns, in forest thickets, within the round
blossoms of lotuses and so forth. Hiding in such places, you will think, “I must
not leave here now!” And feeling so anxious about losing your place, you will
become very attached to it. Feeling so anxious about meeting the terrors of the
between if you go out, hating those terrors, you hide within and assume no matter
what kind of inferior body, and you will come to experience various sufferings. All
that is the sign that demons and ogres are troubling you. There is a profound,
crucial instruction for you at this time. Listen to it and hold it in your mind!
At that time when you are helplessly chased by butchers and are overwhelmed
by terror, instantaneously visualize all at once the Lord Chemchok Heruka, or
Hayagriva, or Vajrapani, and so forth, whoever is your Archetype Deity; gigantic
in size, with bulging limbs, terrifying, furious, able to crush all demons to dust.
By his blessing and compassion, you will free yourself from those butchers, and
you will gain the power to choose a good womb. This is the authentic profound
key of the instruction; so hold it in your mind!
Chemchok Heruka is the most powerful archetype deity in the
old Tantras of Padma Sambhava’s time. His most elaborate form
has many heads, arms, and legs, and represents enlightenment in
its adamantine triumph over evil in all directions. Hayagriva is the
fierce, dark red form of the Lord of Compassion,
Avalokiteshvara, usually distinguished by a small green horse’s
head emerging from the crown of his head. Vajrapani is a deep
blue fierce Bodhisattva, considered the incarnation of the power
of all Buddhas, with many different forms used in the
contemplations of different practitioners. Here these most
powerful Archetype Deities are invoked to provide a shock
intervention, to slow the course of a between-being’s rebirth; not
at this time to attain liberation, but to find a brief respite to change
course and choose a better rebirth. For a person with no
experience of an Archetype Deity, this is a moment to invoke the
most powerful seraphim or cherubim that they can imagine,
anything fierce and of overwhelming power, that still can be
thought of as a benevolent protector by the person.
Hey, noble one! Further, the deities of the contemplation realms are reborn by
the power of their samadhi. The majority of the demonic types such as the
pretans, by changing their self-images while in the between, manifest various
magical transformations in bodies of pretans, demons, and ogres, and then
become mental bodies just like them. The pretans of the underworld, the pretans
of the sky realms, and the eighty thousand types of demons adopt their bodies just
by changing their self-concepts. At such a time, if you remember the import of
voidness, the Great S eal, it is best. If you cannot, you should practice meditation
on magical illusion. If you cannot do that, free of any kind of attachment to
anything, you should meditate on the greatly compassionate Archetype Deity, and
attain enlightenment in the Beatific Body in the between.
The “contemplation realms” are the four formless heavens:
infinite space, infinite consciousness, absolute nothingness, and
beyond consciousness and unconsciousness. A being is born as a
deity of those realms just by focused concentration in the
samadhis by those names. Even lowly creatures such as pretans
and various types of demons attain embodiment just by changing
their self-images. Padma Sambhava here exhorts the deceased to
take responsibility for the power of her imagination, to realize that
she can be whatever she wants just by willing it to be so with
enough determination and undistracted focus. And he reminds
those who have archetype deity Tantric practices to invoke those
practices at this crucial juncture.
Hey, noble one! Thus, if it becomes necessary by the power of evolution to enter
the womb, you should now rely on the instruction for choosing the womb. Listen!
Do not go to just any womb door that presents itself. If, due to the demonic
butchers, you lose the power not to go, then meditate on Hayagriva. S ince now
you have subtle clairvoyance, you will be able to understand the nature of all
places, so choose your place of rebirth wisely. There are two instructions, one for
transmitting your soul into the pure Buddha-lands, and one for choosing a womb
door in the impure life cycle. You should now practice the following.
If you are the most intelligent type of person, to perform the soul-transmission
to the angel realms you should formulate the following controlling intention:
“Alas! I am sad that I have stayed here in this swamp of the life cycle for so long,
beginninglessly for boundless, countless eons! Alas! During all the lifetimes of so
many Buddhas, I have still not been liberated! I am revulsed and nauseated by
this interminable life cycle. I am terrified of it. I totally repudiate it. I must now
remember the methods of escaping it. I must now take miraculous rebirth in the
blossom of a lotus in the presence of the Buddha Amitabha in the western pureland universe, S ukhavati the Blissful!” It is essential here to make great effort to
aim all your willpower in this way toward the western pure universe of
S ukhavati. Whichever pure universe you have faith in—whether it is Amitabha’s
S ukhavati; Abhirati, the delightful land of Akshobhya; Ghanavyuha, the pure
land of Vairochana; Alakavati, the earthly paradise of Vaishravana; Potalaka, the
earthly paradise of Avalokiteshvara, or the lotus light palace of Padma S ambhava
in Udyana, if you aim your concentrated willpower at any one of these pure lands
and hold it one-pointedly without distraction, you will be reborn immediately in
that pure land. Further, if you wish to be reborn in the presence of the Dharma
Lord Maitreya in the Tushita heaven, just aim your will, thinking, “Now that I
am in this between, it is time to visit the Dharma Lord Maitreya in his Tushita
realm, I will go there!” You will be miraculously reborn in the heart of a lotus in
the presence of Maitreya.
The pure land universes, Buddha-lands, or Buddhaverses, are
universes existing in far-away dimensions, though with the
miraculous power of travel of the between-being with her mental
body, and by the grace of the compassion of the Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas, a between-being can travel to them with the speed
of thought. Sukhavati, Abhirati, and Ghanavyuha are
Buddhaverses of the celestial variety. Sukhavati is the most
famous of these, with several important sutras giving elaborate
descriptions. Beings are born there in lotus buds, instead of
wombs. Beings have angelic bodies therein, without sexual
differentiation, and they draw pure energy from the atmosphere,
with no need to eat or excrete. The land is made of jewel
substances and is of the highest beauty. There is no danger and no
unhappiness. The Buddha is always present to everyone within
the land, and all are able to meditate with the greatest facility.
Thus, the environment is ideally suited to the spiritual evolution of
its inhabitants, from the point of view of their development of
wisdom. On the other hand, our own universe is said to be the
Buddhaverse of Shakyamuni Buddha, called Saha. In the
Vimalakirti Sutra, it is said to be even more conducive to
spiritual evolution than a celestial Buddhaverse, because of the
immediacy of suffering as well as the presence of teaching. Beings
in our world can develop compassion as rapidly as wisdom, for
compassion, being sensitivity to the suffering of others, requires
proximity to that suffering in order to develop.
There are also enlightenment-sustained paradises on earth,
maintained by the field of compassion of a particular Bodhisattva,
deity, archetype, or adept. Vaishravana is a deity who became
devoted to Buddhism during Shakyamuni’s time on earth; his
realm, Alakavati, is near the North Pole, and is famous for its
treasures (Vaishravana is perhaps the “Santa Claus” of popular
Buddhist myth). Potalaka is on the west coast of southern India,
hidden on top of a sacred mountain, and home to the
Bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Tara, as well as others in their
retinue. Udyana is somewhere in the Afghan mountains, and is the
magic residence of the retinue of Padma Sambhava—later
replaced in Tibetan myth by the Zangdog Pelri (Copper Mountain
Paradise), somewhere in the southeast of India. Finally, Maitreya,
the next Buddha to descend to earth in the future, dwells in
Sudharma, a famous teaching paradise within a heaven called
Tushita, which itself is a “normal,” desire-realm heaven with
pleasure gods sporting about.
Buddhist practitioners sometimes go to one of these celestial or
earthly pure lands to take a rest from the ordinary life realms. At
other times, they do not choose to visit them, because they do not
want to lose time in their evolutionary quest for full enlightenment,
when they will be able to create a Buddhaverse of their own for
the sake of others. A day in one such paradise might represent
years in the ordinary realms. And Bodhisattvas cannot bear to
abandon other beings to their sufferings for such long periods of
Again, if you cannot, or do not want to, proceed to any pure land, and must
enter a womb, there is this instruction for choosing a womb in the impure life
cycle. Listen to it! Choose your continent for rebirth as explained already. Using
your clairvoyance, enter a womb in a place where the Dharma has spread.
Caution is required, for even if you were to be reborn magically in a heap of
dung, you would get the notion that the impure mass smelled delicious and you
would be reborn in it by the force of your attraction. Therefore you should not
adhere to whatever appearance occurs, and you must discount any signs that
trigger attachment or aversion. Then choose a good womb. And here the willed
intention is important; so you must create it as follows: “Hey! For the sake of all
beings, I will be reborn as a world-ruling emperor, or of the priestly class,
sheltering all beings like a great shade tree, or as the child of a holy man, an
adept, or of a clan with an impeccable Dharma lineage, or in a family where the
parents have great faith. I must succeed in this coming life, by adopting a body
that has great merit, to enable me to accomplish the aims of all beings!” Aiming
your will in this way you should enter the womb. At that time, the womb you have
entered should appear to you as if magically transformed into a divine palace. You
should pray to the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas of the ten directions, the
Archetype Deities, and especially to the Lord of Great Compassion. And you
should visualize that they are all anointing you in consecration as you enter the
The womb should be visualized as a mandala palace, an ideal
environment for the development of an enlightenment-oriented
body. In fact, all mandala palaces, or measureless mansions, are
consciously constructed as womb environments for Archetype
Deities. So, here the mentally highly acute and creative betweenbeing is being instructed to structure his womb in the optimal
manner for his growth. His entry therein should be experienced as
if it were a royal consecration.
In thus choosing the womb door, there is always danger of erring. Under the
influence of evolution, you might see an excellent womb door as bad. You might
see a bad womb door as excellent. S o here the key instruction for choosing is
important; do as follows: Even if a womb door appears to be excellent, do not
become attached to it. Even if it appears bad, do not become averse to it. Enter it
within the experience of the universal loving equanimity, free of lust and hate
and compulsive choosing between good and bad. This is the authentic profound
key instruction.
The idea is for the between-being to enter her womb without
coming under the heavy influence of the emotional addictions, lust,
hate, or delusion. This is important in order to remain alert to the
true nature of the place, and not make the worse than fatal error
of taking rebirth in a horrid life form.
Here, except for a few persons with deep experience, it is hard to be free of the disease
of negative instincts. So if the deceased cannot avoid attachment and aversion, even the
dumbest, most sinful, most bestial person can eliminate negative instincts by taking
refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Community. So once again,
you should call the deceased by name and say the following words up to seven times:
Hey, noble one! If you cannot abandon lust and hate, and know how to choose a
womb door, then, no matter what visions come to you, say the name of the Three
Jewels, and go to them for refuge! Pray to the Lord of Great Compassion! Go
forward with your head held high! Recognize that you are in the between!
Abandon possessive love toward your dear ones left behind, your son, your
daughter, your friends! They cannot help you now. Now go to the blue light of the
human realm and the white light of the divine! Go to the beautiful jewel house
and the pleasure garden!
After saying this seven times, pray to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and read seven
times the Prayer for Refuge from All Terrors, the Root Verses of the Six Betweens, and the
Prayer for Deliverance from the Straits of the Between. Then read loudly and precisely
the Liberation by Wearing, the Natural Liberation of the Body. Also read the Dharma
Practice, Natural Liberation of the Instincts.
The Prayer for Refuge from All Terrors, the Root Verses of
the Six Betweens, and the Prayer for Deliverance from the
Straits of the Between arc all included at the beginning of Part II,
in chapter 5, “The Between Prayers.” The Dharma Practice,
Natural Liberation of the Instincts is included as chapter 7, the
first of the supplementary translations. The Liberation by
Wearing, Natural Liberation of the Body is not translated here.
As mentioned before, it contains mantras to be put into amulets
and placed on the body of the deceased, or to be read aloud.
If you perform these practices properly, the yogi or yogini with high realization will
succeed in the death-point soul-transmission, will not need to wander in the between,
and will be liberated on the great straight upward path. Some less developed but
practiced persons will recognize the reality clear light after the death-point between and
will attain enlightenment on the straight upward path. Others still less developed, during
the progressive sets of seven days when the visions of the mild and fierce deities arise in
the reality between, will be liberated by one manifestation or another, according to their
specific evolutionary destinies and intellectual propensities. Being offered these
practices suitable for many different stages, they will recognize the one fitting for them
and will be liberated.
However, those with weak evolutionary destinies or with negative evolutionary
momentum of sins and obscurations may yet wander downward into the existence
between. Since there are different levels of orientation like the rungs of a ladder, if one
does not help them recognize the clear light, another will; and they will become liberated.
Again among these, some with very weak destinies may not recognize the clear light and
may lose themselves to terror and panic. Even in their case, as there are various different
instructions about blocking the womb door and choosing the womb door, if one does not
help them recognize the clear light, another will. They can hold on to their guiding
intentions and will attain the boundless good qualities of the higher stages. Finally, even
the lowest, most bestial type of person can rebound from the horrid states through the
excellence of taking refuge in the Three Jewels. They can attain the precious human
embodiment endowed with liberty and opportunity. In their next life they can encounter
spiritual teachers and friends, they can receive spiritual instructions, and they, too, will
be liberated.
If this teaching is available during the existence between, this instruction can magnify
the continuing impact of good evolution, like extending an irrigation ditch with a water
trough. It is impossible for even the most sinful persons not to be liberated by this
teaching. Why? In the occasion of the between, both the compassion of the whole host
of mild and fierce Buddha deities and the negative presence of the devils and demons are
constantly escorting the soul of the deceased. Therefore, understanding this teaching at
this time can completely change his perception and lead him to liberation. Further, as the
mental body of the between-person has no flesh-and-blood embodiment, transformation
is easy. In the between, the soul can wander far, wherever he wants, and his evolutionary
subtle clairvoyance can see and hear everything. Held by memory, the soul’s awareness
can transform in an instant. The very nature of the between is highly advantageous for
spiritual development. It is like an acceleration machine. The mental continuum of a
person in the ordinary lifetime is like a huge tree trunk that cannot be moved by a
hundred men; when it is in the between, it is as if floated in water—it can be brought
where you wish in an instant. Or it is like turning a horse with a rein.
Therefore, friends should go to all who die and not disturb the corpse, but read this
Teaching and pray until blood and lymph run from the nostrils. Out of devotion to this
Teaching, animals should not be sacrificed in dedication to the deceased. Near the corpse,
no one, neither friend nor relative, should be allowed to weep, wail, and lament. You
should generate as much virtue as possible.
Further, all teachings associated with this Great Book of Natural Liberation Through
Understanding in the Between should also be read, after completing the guiding
instructions, as they are also extremely excellent. This teaching should constantly be
recited. You should cultivate it, both word and meaning. Then when you know that the
time of your death is certain from recognizing the signs of death, if your health allows,
you should read it aloud yourself and think about it. If your condition does not allow,
you should have your friends read the text and pray. There is no doubt you will
effectively be liberated.
This is the Teaching that does not require meditation and extensive practice. It is the
profound instruction that liberates by regarding, liberates by hearing, and liberates by
reading. This profound instruction guides even the great sinner on the secret path, if you
don’t forget its words and meanings even when being chased by seven hounds. Even if
the Buddhas of the past, present, and future were to search for instructions to attain
perfect enlightenment at the point of death, they would come up with nothing better
than this.
This completes the instruction on the between, this means of liberating embodied
beings, this profound quintessence, the Great Book of Natural Liberation Through
Understanding in the Between.
We have reached the end of this journey, hopefully having
helped the departed to achieve liberation, or, as is more likely if
the departed did not practice for this between-transition during
her lifetime, to attain a favorable rebirth. In either case, according
to the worldview of the Book of Natural Liberation, we can
count on further interaction with our friend or loved one. If she
has attained liberation, she will voluntarily reincarnate to help us
and other “mother beings” find our way through our crises and
achieve the joy of freedom, wisdom, and compassionate
interconnection. If she has attained a favorable rebirth, it will be in
the same kind of circumstances we already enjoy or will enjoy in
our next lives, and we will continue to work on developing the
best in our relationship, whether we recognize each other or not.
Having brought our minds into focus on the art of traveling in
the between, we should renew our resolve to prepare ourselves
for the time when we will need it for ourselves. We should set a
time with like-minded “Dharma friends” to reread it once every
month or two, mentally extending our assistance to those who
have died during that time, whether known or unknown. We
should learn more about the Three Body Mentor Yoga and the
Natural Liberation Through Naked Vision, Identifying the
Intelligence. We should memorize the prayers if possible, or at
least become very familiar with them. We should contemplatively
read over the Dharma Practice, Natural Liberation of the
Instincts, investigating the look and feel of the Buddha-clans, and
developing a sense of familiarity, even family-feeling, with the
archetype Buddha-deities, mild and fierce. We should read more
broadly in the Buddhist literature, especially the Jataka (former
lives of the Buddha tales), the descriptions of Buddha-lands, and
the biographies of enlightened saints. If we belong to a religion
other than Buddhism, we should investigate the iconography of its
Deity, angels, and mentor saints, not believing attenuated
traditions that may think there are no such intercessionary beings
in that religion. We should cultivate a feeling of familiarity with the
Great Mother, or with Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad,
Confucius, Lao Tzu, Rama, Krishna, Shiva, or whichever of their
saintly followers. If we don’t believe in anything non-material, we
should feel friendly with all posited divine or superhuman beings,
just to help us not be afraid in case we remain conscious and meet
someone after we should have entered peacefully into oblivion.
Above all, we should heed the Book of Natural Liberation
and try not to become morbid when we consider or encounter
death. If our loved one dies, we should channel our grief into
helpful activity, remaining joyous and cheerful, not indulging in
weeping and wailing either just because we feel like it (which
feeling is after all a culturally determined, conventional reaction),
to convince others (including the departed) that we care, to
assuage our own sense of guilt at surviving, or to avoid facing our
new aloneness. We can accept the testimony of the Book of
Natural Liberation that we will only frighten and annoy the soul
of the departed and distract her from optimally navigating the
between. She is the most important guest at a death and funeral,
she is in the most momentous transition point of her life cycle, and
positive or negative influences will affect her for years and lives to
come. So in dealing with death let us honor the spirit of the Book
of Natural Liberation at least by trying to do the right thing by
having a good time! May all enjoy happiness and the best of luck!
This supplementary translation and the succeeding one in
chapter 8 (The Natural Liberation Through Naked Vision) are
included for the person who wants to make a long-term,
systematic effort to prepare for the between-state practice.
The Dharma Practice is a contemplative visualization of the
entire assembly of the hundred mild and fierce deities located
within the contemplator’s body. It is to be repeated frequently,
with an attempt to visualize each deity, its appearance, its
ornaments, its posture, and so forth. Slowly, over time, the deities
will become more and more familiar. If one wants to make more
substantial progress in this practice, one should seek a qualified
teacher and receive initiation and further instruction. I also
consider the practice to serve as a model for a practitioner of any
other religious tradition to invoke the deities, angels, and symbols
of that tradition, to arrange them in a similar pattern in relation to
the subtle patterns of the individual body, and to develop a deeper
and more vivid familiarity in that way.
This practice is a systematic visualization, an imaginative
contemplation that aims to cultivate a positive inclination toward
the mild and fierce deities of the Natural Liberation teachings.
The idea is that the negative instincts toward lust, hate, delusion,
and so on should be contemplatively replaced by the positive
instincts of generosity, love, and wisdom, intensified by being
personified by the archetype deities. A person who is concerned
about eventually dying, and who wants to prepare herself to use
the Book of Natural Liberation with the greatest effect, should
use this visualization regularly. Of course, ideally a teacher should
be sought, initiation should be received, and more detailed
instructions about how to do this contemplation should be
secured. Not expecting the reader to have accomplished those
steps, I include this practice here to give some sense of how
further to prepare to use the Book of Natural Liberation. The
text is very dense with allusions to deities and their appearances
and accoutrements. If I stopped to comment on the symbolic
meaning of all of them, this practice would fill another entire book.
I include it to provide an overview. Precise grasp of all details will
come only from your own further research.
The mild All-good and fierce Chemchok Deity hosts,
And the host of the union of the holy hundred clans—
Reverently saluting them, being liberated in the between,
M ay all beings abide in the reality of the Three Bodies!
M ay those fortunate in evolution who have holy teachers
Contemplate and recite always without forgetting
This brilliant Dharma practice, the union of the mild and fierce!
All Tibetan contemplation practices begin with some version
of these ten branches, which are 1) refuge, 2) evocation, 3)
invitation, 4) salutation, 5) offerings, 6) confession, 7)
congratulation, 8) requesting teachings, 9) requesting continuing
presence, and 10) dedication. All of these are deeds that can be
physically performed during entire lifetimes of practitioners. In
these contemplations, the practitioner rehearses them
imaginatively in order to inculcate the pattern of the acts within the
mind-stream. They are rehearsed in the visualized presence of all
the deities in a vast field of refuge in space, often in the pattern of
jewel fruits growing on a giant wish-granting gem tree, known as
the “refuge field.”
Visualize in the space before you the refuge field,
The Three Jewels and the Hundred Clan Deities
And say the following words:
To the fabulous mild and fierce blissful Victors,
The precious Three Jewels and Archetype Deities,
Along with oceans of Angels and the oath-bound host,
In the fabulous realms in the limits of space—
Never abandoning till my total enlightenment,
I reverently go for refuge!
OM AH HUM are seed mantras that represent, respectively,
the body, speech, and mind of all enlightened beings. The deities
here invoked are all familiar, except the “oath-bound host,” who
are mainly mundane deities who once dominated particular tribes
or regions and who have been tamed by a Buddha or great adept
at some time in the past, then bound on oath to serve as
protectors of practitioners of the Teachings of wisdom and
From the vast and fabulous deep of the reality realm,
Emanating bodies of wisdom, art, and compassion,
M ay the fabulous mild and fierce deities of three times
Please come here for the sake of all beings!
In this pure wisdom sphere of apparent possibility,
On thrones of jewel lions and so forth,
On suns and moons of flawless art and wisdom,
Please sit with uncontaminated great pleasure!
The deities are invited to be seated on jewel thrones, on
cushions of sun and moon discs of radiant energy.
In the secret vulva of the All-good Lady,
The undissipated bliss of the All-good Lord,
Playfully creates the mild and fierce deity host,
Fathers and M others with their Children—
I bow down to all of them!
As a way of praising the enlightened deities, the enlightened
universe here is envisioned as contained within the drop of seed of
the divine Father, All-good Buddha, standing in perfect balance in
the vulva of the divine Mother, the All-good Mother Buddha,
radiating its creativity in the forms of all the hundred deities of the
mild and fierce hosts.
To the Victor ocean of mild and fierce blissful Lords,
Immeasurable outer, inner, and secret offerings,
Actually arrayed and mentally emanated,
I offer for the sake of all—please accept them!
Here you imagine the whole universe in front of the deities in
the space before you, filled with huge clouds of offerings, sweet
waters, perfumes, incenses, luscious foods, jewels, cloths, lights,
elixirs, and every conceivable beautiful thing. The inner and secret
offerings are constituted by your own self-habits of body and
mind, offered up to the enlightened beings.
Beginninglessly influenced by the three poisons,
M y physical, verbal, and mental sins, along with their instincts,
All gathering causes of cycling in the horrid states,
Repentantly regretting, I heartily confess!
Repentance about and separation from your sins are
considered important methods of diminishing their evolutionary
impact. The point is not to wallow in guilt, but to face up to and
then get free of mistaken deeds on all levels.
In the great bliss world apparent throughout the Truth Realm,
All altruistic deeds, merits, spirit of enlightenment,
Successes of merit and wisdom—
I congratulate with great joy!
Congratulation is the opposite of jealousy. It is the most
effective way to vicariously participate in the meritorious
successes of others.
M ay the Teachers, as numerous as atoms in all universes,
Stir from their samadhis for beings’ sake,
And please turn the holy wheels of Dharma,
Filling the Realm with teachings to the ends of space!
Until the cyclic world is free,
Accomplishing magnificently the aims of beings,
M ay all the boundless Buddha Teachers
Please remain without going into Nirvana!
By all my virtues of three times,
M ay all beings filling all space
Become vessels of the unexcelled M ahayana,
And swiftly reach the state of the fabulous Buddhas mild and fierce!
This mantra introduces the following visualization of the
enlightened universe by pronouncing ritually: “By the body,
speech, and mind of all Buddhas (OM AH HUM), may one
(MAHASUKHAJNANA) that is the spirit of enlightenment
(BODHICHITTA)—let it be creative (AH)!” The mantra also
accompanies the melting of the refuge field into light and that light
then melting into you.
This mantra invokes the fierce female Dharma protector Shri
Devi, who sets up a protection perimeter around the site of your
contemplation. You then feel safe to dissolve your ordinary
identity into voidness, and arise out of voidness in Archetype
Deity forms. The first practice is another preliminary, the
Vajrasattva purification, wherein you visualize yourself as the
Archetype Deity Vajrasattva, and you recite the cleansing mantra,
known as the “Hundred-syllable Mantra.”
From the uncreated pure Truth realm universe,
In the palace of the ceaseless clear pure drop,
On a jewel throne, on lotus, sun, and moon cushions,
M y mind, out of nonartificial freedom spontaneity,
Arises as Vajrasattva, self-aware bright void;
One face clear white, two arms, smiling,
Right hand holding at heart the conscious void vajra-scepter,
Left holding at hip the appearance void ghanta-bell;
M y crown the blissful, five-clan, perfect Buddhas,
Adorned with the Beatific Body silks and jewels.
I sit in sporting pose, right leg extended, left drawn in.
At my heart, a vajra HUM syllable shines,
Surrounded by the turning hundred letters.
Radiating and reabsorbing [light rays while reciting], I accomplish my own and other
beings’ aims, and purify obscurations. I must repeat as much as possible without
distraction this quintessence of the holy hundred Buddha-clans, to purify emotional and
intellectual obscurations.
The mantra is too long to translate in full here. It has meaning
on many levels, from being a simple request to purify your sins
and obscurations to being the evocation of the seed-quintessence
of the hundred deities of the mandala. You recite it at least
twenty-one times each session, visualizing the shining letters
turning in an energy wheel at your heart center, radiating purifying
rainbow rays to all beings and then absorbing even brighter rays
back into the letters from the joy beings feel as they feel more
After thus purifying sins and obscurations, you should invoke and contemplate the mild
and fierce hundred-clan deity host in the body mandala, pronouncing the between-prayer
as follows.
Then, myself as Vajrasattva, in the palace of my spiritual jewel heart, vivid in the fivelight-ray drop with its five energy-essences, in the mandala of clear brilliance having five
wisdoms, on lotus, sun, and moon cushions on lion, elephant, horse, peacock, and eagle
thrones, shine the thirty-six mild Buddhas in void, bright, ceaseless, rainbow light-ray
Remaining stable in the visualization of yourself as Vajrasattva,
you now visualize the mild and fierce deities as radiantly present
within the universe of your own body. Your “spiritual heart” means
the infinitely expanded space within your central channel back
near the spine, at the height of the breasts, not the physical heart
on the left side. As Vajrasattva, you visualize your body as made
of light, not of coarse flesh, blood, and bone.
Before visualizing the five Buddhas with their consort
Buddhas in the center and four directions of the heart (east lies in
front, south to your right, west toward your back, and north to
your left), you visualize the primal Buddha and consort “in the
deep space of the center.” The All-good Buddha Father-Mother
is not one of the five Buddhas, but the personified quintessence of
the Truth Body of all Buddhas, visualized as present in the core of
the soul, sealing your oneness with the universal ultimate reality of
perfect freedom from the primordial beginninglessness of all time.
In the deep space of the drop in the center of my spiritual heart, the changeless light
body of the Truth Body, the primal savior All-good Samantabhadra, blue in color, in
indivisible union with the white Truth Realm, All-good Samantabhadri, cross-legged in
equipoise posture, sits on bright void lotus, sun, and moon cushions. To this great
general ancestor of the three times Buddhas I bow, make offerings, take refuge, and pray.
When I and others transit from life, just after leaving the body, when that pure, clear,
reality light dawns, may Father Samantabhadra escort me from the front, and may
M other Samantabhadri support me from behind. Pray lead me to the state of All-good
When you pray for the sake of a deceased person, you
substitute “the deceased So-and-so” for “I and others.”
The clear white Vairochana and Dhatvishvari sport in union, holding wheel and bell, and
sit cross-legged at the center, bright and void. To the Lord of the central Buddha-clan, I
bow, offer, take refuge, and pray. When I and others transit from life, just after leaving
the body, when those reality-between visions dawn, when I roam the life cycle through
powerful delusions, on the light path of the bright Truth Realm wisdom, may Lord
Vairochana guide my path! M ay supreme mother Dhatvishvari support me from behind!
M ay they deliver me from the straits of terror of the between! M ay they carry me to
perfect Buddhahood!
From here on you visualize the five Buddhas, grouped with
their consorts and male and female Bodhisattva attendants in the
center and four directions of your heart space. These should be
visualized according to the descriptions of the mild deity groups in
the Reality Between appearing on the “First” through the “Fifth”
days on this page (see color insert, plates 5, 6, 7, and 8).
On the eastern petal of my spiritual heart, in the light space of the bright mirror wisdom,
bright blue Vajrasattva sports with Lochana, holding vajra and bell. They sit cross-legged,
bright and void. On his right stands white Kshitigarbha holding sprout and bell, on his
left, white M aitreya, holding naga-tree flower and bell. Before him dances white Lasya
holding mirror and bell, behind him, white Pushpa, holding a flower. To these six
members of the Vajra clan, I bow, offer, take refuge, and pray. When I and others transit
from life, just after leaving the body, when those reality-between visions dawn, when I
roam the life cycle through powerful hate, on the light path of the bright mirror wisdom,
may Lord Vajrasattva guide my path! M ay supreme mother Buddhalochana support me
from behind! M ay they deliver me from the straits of terror of the between! M ay they
carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
On the southern petal of my spiritual heart, in the light space of the bright equality
wisdom, yellow Ratnasambhava sports in union with M amaki. Holding jewel and bell,
they sit cross-legged, bright and void. On his right stands yellow Samantabhadra holding
garland and bell, on his left, yellow Akashagarbha, holding sword and bell. Before him
dances yellow M ala holding a rosary, behind him, yellow Dhupa holding incense. To
these six members of the Jewel clan, I bow, offer, take refuge, and pray. When I and
others transit from life, just after leaving the body, when those reality-between visions
dawn, when I roam the life cycle through powerful pride, on the light path of the bright
equality wisdom, may Lord Ratnasambhava guide my path! M ay supreme mother
M amaki support me from behind! M ay they deliver me from the straits of terror of the
between! M ay they carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
On the western petal of my spiritual heart, in the light space of the bright discriminating
wisdom, red Amitabha sports in union with Pandaravasini. Holding red lotus and bell,
they sit cross-legged, bright and void. On his right stands red Avalokiteshvara holding
lotus and bell, on his left, red M anjushri, holding sword and bell. Before him dances red
Gita holding a wheel, behind him, red Aloka holding a lamp. To these six members of the
Lotus clan, I bow, offer, take refuge, and pray. When I and others transit from life, just
after leaving the body, when those reality-between visions dawn, when I roam the life
cycle through powerful lust, on the light path of the bright discriminating wisdom, may
Lord Amitabha guide my path! M ay supreme mother Pandaravasini support me from
behind! M ay they deliver me from the straits of terror of the between! M ay they carry
me to perfect Buddhahood!
On the northern petal of my spiritual heart, in the light space of the bright, all-
accomplishing wisdom, green Amoghasiddhi sports in union with Tara. Holding vajracross and bell, they sit cross-legged, bright and void. On his right stands green
Sarvanivaranaviskambhin, holding book and bell, on his left, green Vajrapani, holding
vajra and bell. Before him dances green Gandha, holding a skull bowl, behind him, green
Nartya holding food. To these six members of the Action clan, I bow, offer, take refuge,
and pray. When I and others transit from life, just after leaving the body, when those
reality-between visions dawn, when I roam the life cycle through powerful envy, on the
light path of the bright all-accomplishing wisdom, may Lord Amoghasiddhi guide my
path! M ay supreme mother Tara support me from behind! M ay they deliver me from
the straits of terror of the between! M ay they carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
On the eastern gate petal of my spiritual heart stand white Vijaya and Ankusha in union,
in warrior posture. On the southern gate petal of my spiritual heart stand yellow Yama
and Pasha in union, in warrior posture. On the western gate petal of my spiritual heart
stand red Hayagriva and Sphota in union, in warrior posture. On the northern gate petal
of my spiritual heart stand green Amrtakundali and Ghanta in union, in warrior posture.
To the eight emanated Door-guards, Fathers and M others, I bow, offer, take refuge, and
pray. When I and others transit from life, just after leaving the body, when those realitybetween visions dawn, when I roam the life cycle through powerful instincts, on the light
path of the bright four wisdoms in union, may these four fierce guardians guide my path!
M ay the four great mother guardians support me from behind! M ay they deliver me
from the straits of terror of the between! M ay they carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
In the light deep of the great bliss lotus at my crown, in the mandala of the clear
brilliance of the bright white drop, the white divine Buddha Indra stands with his guitar;
may he cut off pride, the door of rebirth among the gods. In the light deep of my nape, in
the mandala of the clear brilliance of the bright green drop, the green titanic Buddha
Vemachitra stands with his weapon; may he cut off envy, the titan birth door. In the light
deep of the crystal hole of my life channel at my heart, in the mandala of the clear
brilliance of the bright yellow drop, the yellow human Buddha Shakyamuni stands with
his mendicant’s staff; may he cut off lust, the human birth door. In the light deep of the
coiling nerve wheel at my navel, in the mandala of the clear brilliance of the bright blue
drop, the blue animal Buddha Simha stands with his book; may he cut off delusion, the
animal birth door. In the light deep of the bliss source lotus at my secret place, in the
mandala of the clear brilliance of the bright orange drop, the red pretan Buddha
Jvalamukha stands with his box; may he cut off greed, the pretan birth door. In the light
deep of the coiling nerve wheels on my foot soles, in the mandala of the clear brilliance of
the bright black drop, the black hell Buddha Dharmaraja stands with his fire water; may
he cut off hatred, the hell birth door.
To the six Buddhas, Emanation Bodies accomplishing beings’ aims, I bow, offer, take
refuge, and pray. When I and others transit from life, just after leaving the body, when
those existence-between visions dawn, when I roam the life cycle through powerful
instincts, on the light path of the bright four wisdoms in union, may the three upper
Buddhas guide my path! M ay the three lower Buddhas support me from behind! M ay
they deliver me from the light path of the impure six realms! M ay they carry me to
perfect Buddhahood!
The forty-two mild deities blaze with light rays of spontaneous energy of clear
brilliance, their bodies mild and youthful, soft, supple, tenderly alluring, beautiful,
adorned with the signs and marks. To that mild deity host of the vajra realm, I bow, offer,
take refuge, and pray. When I and others transfer from life, just after leaving the body,
when those reality-between visions dawn, when I wander in the cycle through powerful
five poisons, on the light path of the bright five wisdoms, may the mild Fathers guide
my path! M ay the Consort M others support me from behind! M ay the male and female
Guardians support me from the boundaries! M ay they deliver me from the straits of
terror of the between! M ay they carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
In this time of abiding in the life between, the forty-two mild deities, in the palace of my
body’s spiritual heart, sit vividly in bodies made of the five lights. When I transfer from
life, just after leaving the body, may the mild deities emerge from within my heart. M ay
they arise and fill the space before me. With ornaments and equipment, Lords and
Consorts countless in number stand in the vastness of rainbow light, in their bright, void,
rainbow light-ray bodies, with five-wisdom light-path penetrating brilliance and five-light
drops, radiating sounds and rays. Naturally beautiful, clear, brilliant, lustrous, resonant—
may they arise as if penetrating my heart. Along with those lights of the five wisdoms
will come the impure six light paths of the six impure, erring ordinary life-realms. At the
time when they arise for me, may the compassionate Lords of the mild deity host,
sensitive, not weak in love, lead me on the path of the four wisdoms combined. M ay
they bring me back from the path of the six impure realms!
In the next seven paragraphs, you conclude visualizing the
mild deities, focusing on the Five Scientist Deities with their
consorts in the center and four directions of your throat center
space. Please refer to the descriptions in the Reality Between for
the Seventh Day, this page.
In the palace of the Beatific Body wheel in the center of my physical throat, in the vast
sphere immersed in rainbows and lights, in the center of the beatific wheel lotus, there is
the clear, red, Evolutionary Great Scientist, Padmanarteshvara, with five light-ray
brilliance, bliss-void united with the red Wisdom Angel, manifesting in space, holding
chopper and skull bowl. M ay the body Scientist host protect all beings!
In my throat beatific wheel’s eastern petal, there is the clear, white, Earth-abiding Great
Scientist, Padmanarteshvara, united with the white smiling Angel, manifesting in space
holding chopper and skull bowl. M ay the mind Scientist host protect all beings!
In my throat beatific wheel’s southern petal, there is the clear, yellow Life-lord Great
Scientist, united with the yellow smiling Angel, manifesting in space, holding chopper
and skull bowl. M ay the excellence Scientists protect all beings!
In my throat beatific wheel’s western petal, there is the clear, red Great Seal Great
Scientist, united with the red smiling Angel, manifesting in space, holding chopper and
skull bowl. M ay the speech Scientists protect all beings!
In my throat beatific wheel’s northern petal, there is the clear, green Effortless Great
Scientist, united with the green, fierce, smiling Angel, manifesting in space, holding
chopper and skull bowl. M ay the miracle Scientists protect all beings!
To the entire Scientist Hero and Angel host, I bow, offer, take refuge, and pray. When I
and others transit from life, just after leaving the body, when those reality-between
visions dawn, when I roam the life cycle through powerful instincts, on the light path of
the clear orgasmic wisdom, may the hero Scientists guide my path! M ay the supreme
mother Angel host support me from behind! M ay they deliver me from the straits of
terror of the between! M ay they carry me to the pure angelic worlds!
In this time of abiding in the life between, the Scientist Heros and Angels, in the palace
of my body’s throat beatific wheel, sit vividly in bodies made of the five lights. When I
and others transit from life, just after leaving the body, may the Scientist Deity host
emerge from within my throat. M ay they arise and fill the space before me. M ay they
manifest music and dancing. M ay they shake and energize the whole universe. With their
orgasmic wisdom light-path of brilliant, penetrating rays, when the animal delusion path
arises, may the Scientist Deity host’s compassion not be feeble. M ay they bring me back
from the path of animal delusion! M ay they lead beings to the path of orgasmic wisdom!
M ay they care for me compassionately, to recognize the reality of the between! M ay
they consecrate me to become a Scientist Bodhisattva!
In the following, you visualize the fierce deities in the center
and four directions of your brain center. You begin with the dark
brown Chemchok Heruka and his consort Krodhishvari, who is a
fierce form of the All-good Samantabhadra Buddha and consort
and the personified essence of all fierce Buddha-deities. For
further descriptions of these fierce deities, you should refer to the
Fierce Deity Reality Between, Eighth through Twelfth Days, this
page–this page, and color plates 6 and 8.
On my Vajrasattva crown, in the palace of my brain’s skull mansion, in the radiant
vastness of the rainbow flame-mass drop, sit the bodies of the Heruka Deity host.
In the central petal of my brain’s skull mansion, in the radiant vastness of the rainbow
flame-mass drop, stands the All-good Chemchok Heruka, with three faces, dark brown,
white, and red, and six arms, the right three holding vajra, khatvanga, and small javelin,
the left three holding bell, bloody spear, and intestine-noose, united in indivisible bliss
with Krodhishvari. M ay the Lord Father-M other lead all beings!
Upon a throne in the central petal of my brain skull mansion, in the radiant vastness of
the rainbow flame-mass drop, stands the Vairochana Buddha Heruka, with three faces,
dark brown, white, and red, and six arms, the right three holding wheel, ax, and sword,
the left three holding bell, mirror, and bloody spear, united in indivisible bliss with
Buddha Krodhi. M ay the Blissful Heruka clan lead all beings!
Upon a throne in the eastern petal of my brain skull mansion, in the radiant vastness of
the rainbow flame-mass drop, stands the Vajrasattva Vajra Heruka, with three faces, dark
blue, white, and red, and six arms, the right three holding vajra, spear, and ax, the left
three holding bell, bloody spear, and mirror, united in indivisible bliss with Vajra
Krodhishvari. M ay the Vajra Heruka clan lead all beings!
Upon a throne in the southern petal of my brain’s skull mansion, in the radiant vastness
of the rainbow flame-mass drop, stands the Ratnasambhava Ratna Heruka, with three
faces, dark yellow, white, and red, and six arms, the right three holding jewel, khatvanga,
and club, the left three holding bell, bloody spear, and trident, united in indivisible bliss
with Ratna Krodhishvari. M ay the Ratna Heruka clan lead all beings!
Upon a throne in the western petal of my brain’s skull mansion, in the radiant vastness
of the rainbow flame-mass drop, stands the Amitabha Padma Heruka, with three faces,
dark red, white, and blue, and six arms, the right three holding lotus, khatvanga, and rod,
the left three holding bell, bloody spear, and dart, united in indivisible bliss with Padma
Krodhishvari. M ay the Padma Heruka clan lead all beings!
Upon a throne in the northern petal of my brain’s skull mansion, in the radiant vastness
of the rainbow flame-mass drop, stands the Amoghasiddhi Karma Heruka, with three
faces, dark green, white, and red, and six arms, the right three holding sword, khatvanga,
and rod, the left three holding bell, bloody spear, and mirror, united in indivisible bliss
with Karma Krodhishvari. M ay the Karma Heruka clan lead all beings!
To the twelve Heruka Lords and Ladies, I bow, offer, take refuge, and pray. When I and
others transit from this life, just after leaving the body, when those reality-between
visions dawn, when I roam the life cycle through powerful false perceptions, on the light
path of the clear full five wisdoms, may the Heruka Fury Kings guide my path! M ay the
Realm-goddess Fury host support me from behind! M ay they deliver me from the
straits of terror of the between! M ay they carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
In the light vastness of the eastern petal of my skull mansion, stands a white Gauri,
holding a skeleton club and a skull bowl. In the light vastness of the southern petal of my
skull mansion, a yellow Chauri holds a bow and arrow and throws an impaling stick. In
the light vastness of the western petal of my skull mansion, a red Pramoha holds a seamonster victory standard. In the light vastness of the northern petal of my skull
mansion, a black Vetali holds a vajra and a skull bowl. In the light vastness of the
southeastern petal of my skull mansion, an orange Pukkasi devours fresh intestines. In
the light vastness of the southwestern petal of my skull mansion, a dark green Ghasmari
shakes a vajra and a skull bowl. In the light vastness of the northwestern petal of my
skull mansion, a light yellow Chandali eats a heart and holds a headless body. In the light
vastness of the northeastern petal of my skull mansion, a dark blue Shmashani holds and
eats a headless body.
To the eight Gauri goddesses of the holy grounds, I bow, offer, take refuge, and pray.
When I and others transit from this life, just after leaving the body, when those realitybetween visions dawn, when I roam the life cycle through powerful false perceptions, on
the light path of the clear sound, light, and rays, may the four Gauri goddesses guide my
path! M ay the four Pukkasi goddesses support me from behind! M ay they deliver me
from the straits of terror of the between! M ay they carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
On the outer eastern petal of my skull mansion, a dark brown, lion-faced Simhasya holds
a corpse in her mouth. On the outer southern petal of my skull mansion, a red, tigerfaced Vyaghrasya stands with her two arms folded. On the outer western petal of my
skull mansion, a black, jackal-faced Shrgalasya eats intestines. On the outer northern
petal of my skull mansion, a dark blue, wolf-faced Shvanasya rends a corpse. On the
outer southeastern petal of my skull mansion, a pale yellow, vulture-faced Grdhrasya
eats a corpse draped over her shoulder. On the outer southwestern petal of my skull
mansion, a dark red, hawk-faced Kankhasya carries a flayed human skin. On the outer
northwestern petal of my skull mansion, a black, crow-faced Kakasya holds a skull bowl
and a knife. On the outer northeastern petal of my skull mansion, a light blue, owl-faced
Ulukasya holds a vajra.
To these eight Simha ghouls of the holy places, I bow, offer, take refuge, and pray.
When I and others transit from life, just after leaving the body, when those realitybetween visions dawn, when I roam the life cycle through powerful false perceptions, on
the light path of all visions being the eight holy places, may the four Simha ghouls guide
my path! M ay the four Grdhra ghouls support me from behind! M ay they deliver me
from the straits of terror of the between! M ay they carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
On the eastern gate petal of my skull mansion, a white, horse-faced Ankusha holds a
goad and a skull bowl. On the southern gate petal of my brain skull mansion, a yellow,
pig-faced Pasha holds a noose and a skull bowl. On the western gate petal of my brain
skull mansion, a red, lion-faced Shernkhala holds a chain and a skull bowl. On the
northern gate petal of my brain skull mansion, a green, serpent-faced Ghanta holds a bell
and a skull bowl. To the four wisdom-emanated female Door Guardians, I bow, offer,
take refuge, and pray. When I and others transit from this life, just after leaving the body,
when those reality-between visions dawn, when I roam the life cycle through powerful
false perceptions, to block the doors of the errors of the four types of rebirth may they
open the doors of the four pure miraculous activities! M ay Ankusha and Pasha guide my
path! M ay Shernkhala and Ghanta support me from behind! M ay they deliver me from
the straits of terror of the between! M ay they carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
On the small channels outside the eastern gate of my skull mansion, the six powerful,
peace-making Yoginis appear: the white, yak-faced Rakshasi holding a vajra; the pale
yellow, snake-faced Brahmi holding a lotus; the pale green, leopard-faced M aheshvari
holding a trident; the pale blue, monkey-faced Lobha holding a wheel; the pink, mulefaced Kumari holding a pike; and the white, bear-headed Indrani holding an intestinenoose. M ay these six Yoginis arise from the east, make peace, and accomplish the
activities of eradicating the terrors of the between!
On the small channels outside the southern gate of my skull mansion, the six powerful
magnifying Yoginis appear: the yellow, bat-faced Vajra holding a razor; the orange, seamonster-faced Shanti holding a vase; the orange, scorpion-faced Amrta holding a lotus;
the pale yellow, hawk-faced Chandra holding a vajra; the yellow-green, fox-faced Gada
holding a rod; and the yellow-black, tiger-faced Rakshasi drinking blood from a skull
bowl. M ay these six magnifying Yoginis arise from the south, and accomplish the
activities of expanding wisdom in the between!
On the small channels outside the western gate of my skull mansion, the six powerful
dominating Yoginis appear: the red-green, vulture-faced Bhakshasi holding a club; the red,
horse-faced Rati holding the trunk of a human corpse; the pink, eagle-faced M ahabali
holding a rod; the red, dog-faced Rakshasi holding a vajra; the red, hoopoe-faced Kama
shooting arrow from a bow; and the red-green, deer-headed Vasuraksha holding a vase.
M ay these six dominating Yoginis arise from the west, and accomplish the activities of
facilitating freedom in the between!
On the small channels outside the northern gate of my skull mansion, the six powerful
destroying Yoginis appear: the blue-green, wolf-faced Vayavi waving a banner; the greenred, ibex-headed Narini holding an impaling stick; the dark green, pig-faced Varahi holding
a noose made of tusks; the green-red, crow-faced Rati holding the flayed skin of a child;
the dark green, elephant-faced M ahanasi holding a human corpse; and the blue-green,
snake-faced Varimi holding a snake noose. M ay these six terrifying Yoginis arise from the
north, and accomplish the activities of destroying misperceptions in the between!
In the eastern gate of my skull mansion, the white, cuckoo-faced Vajra holds a goad. In
the skull mansion southern gate, the yellow, goat-faced Vajra holds a noose. In the
western gate, a red, lion-faced Vajra holds a chain. In the northern gate, a green, snakefaced Vajra holds a bell; may these four powerful female Guardians who do the work of
emanation accomplish the activities of blocking the doors of birth!
To these twenty-eight powerful Yoginis, I bow, offer, take refuge, and pray. When I and
others transit from this life, just after leaving the body, when those reality-between
visions dawn, when I roam the life cycle through powerful false perceptions, on the light
path of the brilliant sounds, lights, and rays, may the seven eastern goddesses guide my
path! M ay the seven southern goddesses support me from behind! M ay the seven
western goddesses sustain me from the borders! M ay the seven northern goddesses
destroy and liberate! M ay they deliver me from the straits of terror of the between!
M ay they carry me to perfect Buddhahood!
In this time of abiding in the life between, the sixty Heruka deities in the palace of the
brain skull mansion on my crown stand vividly in their bodies formed of the five lightrays. When I and others transit from this life, just after leaving the body, may the Heruka
deities emerge from within the brain and arise, filling entirely the world of the three
billion universes; well adorned and equipped, Lords and Companions terrifying in
demeanor, their fierce bodies in the vastness of sounds, lights and rays, with
accoutrements of charm, bravery, and terror; sounding the roar of wildness, fatality, and
ferocity, blazing with the wrath of compassion, savagery, and fury; decorated with
smears of bone ash, blood, and grease; wearing blood-dripping hides and tiger-skin skirts;
adorned with skull garlands, snake sashes, and blazing with masses of flames; rumbling
with the thousand thunders, “HA HA HUM PHAT! Strike! Kill!” They move about
manifesting various heads and various implements. They shake the billion worlds in
various ways. All their sounds, light rays, and energies are terrifying in appearance.
When all these arise before me, may the compassionate fierce Heruka Deity host not
stint of their compassion. When I roam the life cycle through powerful instincts, on the
light path of abandoning visions of anguish, panic, and terror, may the fierce Heruka host
guide my path! M ay the fierce goddess host support me from behind! M ay the Gauri
and Simha Door Goddesses sustain me from the borders! M ay the eight great uplifting
goddesses uplift me from the holy places! M ay the animal-faced goddess host eliminate
obstacles! M ay the four great female Door guardians block the doors of rebirth! M ay
they deliver me from the straits of terror of the between! M ay they carry me to perfect
When I leave my loved ones and wander off alone, and empty forms arise in my
perception, may the Buddhas exert the force of their compassion, and prevent the
debilitating terrors of the between! When that brilliant wisdom light path dawns, may I
recognize it as my own reality, free of fear and panic! When the mild and ferocious body
forms arise, with fearless confidence, may I recognize the reality of the between! If I
experience suffering under the influence of negative evolution, may the Archetype Deity
clear all misery away! If the natural sound of Reality thunders like a thousand dragons,
may it just become the sound of the M ahayana Dharma! When I follow evolution
without refuge, may the Great Compassion Lord give refuge to me and others! When the
instinct body suffers, may the samadhi of clear light bliss arise! M ay I not hate as
enemies the realms of the five elements, but behold them as the pure realms of the five
Buddha-clans! By the power of the blessings of the M entors of the esoteric tradition,
the compassion of the fabulous mild and fierce deity host, and my own pure high resolve
—may everything I have prayed for be accomplished!
It would be ideal if, before using this text, you found a
qualified lama as mentor, learned some basic preliminaries, and
received permission or initiation to use these visualizations. In
circumstances where that is not possible yet, but there is a
basically respectful and positive attitude, it is all right to work on
your own to become more familiar with the between-deities, to
prepare yourself for the between-experience. The key to using
this Dharma Practice successfully is continual repetition. When
you first recite this and try to visualize it, you feel lost and
uncomfortable. You find it difficult to visualize anything, you find
the names and deities unfamiliar, your mind wanders away from
your heart, throat, and brain centers, you feel worried,
inadequate, confused, and perhaps irritated. Relax. Make color
Xeroxes of the color plates and set them up in a pleasant space
where you like to meditate. Resolve to read it quietly again and
again. Think that the deities are there whether you notice them or
not. After all, your rib cage is there, and how often do you think
about it, rib by rib? As you read each paragraph, look at the
corresponding picture and try to imagine your Vajrasattva lightbody as containing that deity in that spot. Even a small flash of
color, a rough outline of a form, is progress. As you continue, you
will feel more and more at home with the practice, and, most
important, more familiar with the various deities. Don’t set
yourself any strict goals. Don’t hope for any peak experiences or
fantastic visions—and don’t get attached or make claims about it
if anything pleasant does happen. The big peak experience awaits
us all after death in the between—the point is to be ready. Try to
practice a little bit at a time. A secret is to always quit the practice
when you’re still enjoying it. Don’t strain yourself to do as much
as possible each time, or you will find yourself vaguely reluctant to
start again the next session. If you work on this practice in this
steady and persistent way, you will feel more prepared for
anything bit by bit. Try also to memorize or familiarize yourself
with the between-prayers and verses, study all parts of the
Natural Liberation, and learn as much as possible about
Buddhism and Tibetan civilization. It will be enjoyable and
beneficial. May this bring happiness and good luck to all!
The Naked Vision provides a summary of the philosophical
and contemplative doctrines of the Great Perfection, considered
the supreme and highest Tantra in the Nyingma Order, and
foundational in the teachings of the Book of Natural Liberation.
I include this, even though it has been translated before, because it
is such a beautiful text, because its study will enhance the reader’s
understanding of the whole Natural Liberation, and because I
happen to like it very much. Even though it expresses the highest
and most advanced teaching, it has the special virtue for the
general reader of making the metaphysical view of Buddhism
This text is philosophical, rather than experiential in the way of
most of the Book of Natural Liberation. It concerns the
profound reality underlying the Teaching, indeed, making possible
liberation itself. It teaches radical nonduality, the immediate and
liberating presence of ultimate reality in the here and now, and the
actuality of peace, security, benevolence, and bliss. This is
especially healing in our modern culture where some current
interpretations of religions tend to devalue our immediate
experience of life, and secularism reduces all to meaningless
matter. Studying the Naked Vision will enhance the reader’s
understanding of all the other instructions of the Book of Natural
Liberation. It conveys pure wisdom, that which finally is
indispensable in the realization of true freedom.
Homage to the Three-bodied Deity, intelligence’s natural clarity!
“Naked vision” is liberated intuition—unmediated experience.
It can function when all conceptual direction, both conscious
thought-orientation and unconscious ingrained prejudice, has been
thoroughly suspended. The central notion is that all Deity is the
natural clarity of intelligence itself. All positive awareness, love,
confidence, stability, power, clarity, and goodness—the strong
force of the universe—is itself our bare intelligence. Our task
then is to strip away all confusions and distorted programmings
and let our natural goodness be there, to find our own natural
security in our actual deepest reality.
Here is taught the Natural Liberation Through Naked Vision, Identifying the
Intelligence, from the Profound Teaching of the Natural Liberation Through
Contemplating the Mild and Fierce Buddha Deities. Thus identifying your own
intelligence, contemplate it well, O fortunate child!
This expression reminds us that this teaching is esoteric,
sealed by a vow and protected by angelic beings. The reason it
has been traditionally kept a secret is not because of some elitism
or stinginess on the part of enlightened teachers. It has been kept
secret because it can easily be misunderstood by the uneducated,
misunderstood as meaning that there are no efforts to be made
toward freedom, that all ethical restraint, virtue, and mental
development are really unnecessary, and that anything goes.
When the raw egotist feels thus that his impulses should be
allowed unchecked sway, that person tends to become harmful to
himself and to others. However, after a person has cultivated
detachment from blind passion, freedom from reactive hatred, and
insight into the relativity of all attitudes and states of personality,
this simple teaching no longer needs to be sealed away by angels.
It becomes readily available. In modern society, particularly
societies influenced by ideologies that teach that reality is either
evil and threatening or neutral and ultimately meaningless, the
literate public has the right to hear this radically positive teaching.
This expresses wonder and joy.
The one mind that pervades all life and liberation,
Though it is the primal nature, it is not recognized,
Though its bright intelligence is uninterrupted, it is not faced,
Though it ceaselessly arises everywhere, it is not recognized.
To make known just this objective nature,
The three times Victors proclaimed the inconceivable
Eighty-four thousand Dharma Teachings,
Teaching none other than this realization.
Though Scriptures are measureless as the sky,
Their import is three words identifying intelligence.
This direct introduction to the intention of the Victors—
Just this is the entry into freedom from progression.
This simple teaching—the three words, “This is It!”—is the
final point of all the other teachings of all the Buddhas. Their
inconceivable compassion responds with every variety and
complexity of therapy required by the variety and complexity of
human self-entanglement. But the bottom line is that all goodness,
wisdom, and peace is here and now in every atom and instant of
This calls us to attention, to a joyful alertness.
Fortunate children! Listen here!
“M ind”—though this great word is so well known—
People do not know it, know it wrongly or only partially;
And by their not understanding its reality precisely,
They come up with inconceivable philosophical claims.
The common, alienated individual, not realizing this,
By not understanding her own nature on her own,
Suffers roaming through six life-forms in three realms.
Such is the fault of not realizing this reality of the mind.
We spend our lives trying to make ends meet, seeking to
inform ourselves about what we need to know to succeed in the
tasks we think essential to survival. But we have spent countless
lifetimes suffering the loss of everything again and again, all
because we have not realized what it is that we ourselves actually
are. We have thought we were absolute life-centers, struggling
against a hostile environment, trying to prolong our existence
against all odds. We never recognized that our very intelligence
itself is the same as the strong force that holds all things together,
that we have always essentially been one with our highest
fulfillment, our ultimate possible goal. So we always feared,
fought, struggled, suffered, and put our effort into the exactly
opposite direction.
Disciples and Hermit Buddhas claim realization
Of a partial selflessness, but do not know this exactly.
Bound up in claims from their treatises and theories,
They do not behold clear light transparency.
Disciples and Hermit Buddhas are the two kinds of Individual
Vehicle saints. They have become genuinely liberated from a
certain level of false self-addiction. They have developed true
insight into reality. But their insight is not complete. Their instincts
are still distorted, and they cannot melt down from all coarse and
subtle structures into the transparency of ultimate reality.
Disciples and Hermits are shut out by clinging to subject and object,
Centrists are shut out by extremism about the two realities,
Ritual and Performance Tantrists, by extremism in service and practice,
And Great (M aha) and Pervasive (Anu) Tantrists,
By clinging to the duality of realm and intelligence.
They err by remaining dualistic in nonduality,
By not communing nondually, they do not awaken.
All life and liberation inseparable from their own minds,
They still roam the life cycle on vehicles of quitting and choosing.
Padma Sambhava critiques the Individualists for their
perceptual dualism about subject and object. He critiques the
Universalists (Mahayanists), who prefer the philosophy of
centrism founded by Nagarjuna, for their overemphasis on either
the relative or the ultimate reality, or even overfondness of the
two-reality scheme itself. He critiques the ritualistic Tantric
practitioners for their dualistic attitudes about the separation
between themselves and the deities they invoke in their rituals and
visualizations. He critiques the higher, more yogic Tantrists for
remaining dualistic about the difference between their own minds
and the diamond realm of perfection of the great mandalas, or
pure environments.
Therefore, absorbing all created things in your free inaction,
Realize the great natural liberation of all things from this teaching
Of natural liberation through naked seeing of your own intelligence!
Thus, in the Great Perfection, everything is perfect!
Here he sets the Ultimate (Ati) Tantrists, the adepts of natural
liberation, at the apex of all vehicles, engaged in the subtlest
practice of nonpractice, of achievement of nonduality by radical
immersion in immediacy without dualistic effort. This is the
teaching of the Great Perfection.
“M ind,” this bright process of intelligence,
In one way exists and in another way does not.
It is the origin of the pleasure and pain of life and liberation.
It is accepted as essential to the eleven vehicles of liberation.
Again, the mind exists as the fundamental intelligence of
reality, the essential void transparency that is the immovable
strong force of the multiverse. But in another sense, it cannot be
said to “exist” since there is ultimately nothing other than it, it
“stands out” from no other nonexistent, it is the universal unity of
the ultimate reality. The “eleven vehicles” is not the usual “nine
vehicles” mentioned by Padma Sambhava, which include the three
exoteric vehicles, the three lower Tantras, and the three highest
Tantras. It rather refers as a general number to the many vehicles,
non-Buddhist as well as Buddhist, that take one to liberation.
Immediately following there are eleven names of mind, used in
different Indian schools of thought. Each of these names is used
by a different vehicle.
Its names are countless in various contexts.
Some call this mind “the mind-reality.”
Some fundamentalists call it “self.”
Some Disciples call it “selflessness.”
Idealists call it by the name of “mind.”
Some call it “transcendent wisdom.”
Some call it “the Buddha nature.”
Some call it “the Great Seal.”
Some call it “the Soul Drop.”
Some call it “the Truth Realm.”
Some call it “the Foundation.”
Some call it “the Ordinary.”
It is hard to distinguish these eleven different types, though
they seem to refer, respectively, to our author, Hindu
philosophers, Buddhist Individualists, Idealists, Centrists,
immanentists, three types of Tantric adepts, idealistic Tantrics, and
our author again.
To introduce the three-point entrance to this itself—
Realize past awareness as trackless, clear, and void,
Future awareness as unproduced and new,
And present awareness as staying natural, uncontrived.
The “three points” here seems to refer to the threefold
deconstruction of the three times (past, present, and future),
freeing oneself from the reification of the passage of time in order
to enter into timeless awareness.
Thus knowing time in its very ordinary way,
When you nakedly regard yourself,
Your looking is transparent, nothing to be seen.
This is naked, immediate, clear intelligence.
This is a quick resolution of the double-bind meditation of
looking for the self looking for the self, which generates in insight
meditation an internal spinning sensation that becomes the
diamond drill of critical wisdom that cuts through all seeming
substantialities of apparent intrinsically identifiable self, leading to
the realization of voidness and the experience of freedom.
It is clear voidness with nothing established,
Purity of clarity-voidness nonduality;
Not permanent, free of any intrinsic status,
Not annihilated, bright and distinct,
Not a unity, multidiscerning clarity,
Without plurality, indivisible, one in taste,
Not derivative, self-aware, it is this very reality.
This passage recalls Nagarjuna’s famous opening verse from
his Wisdom, in which he sets forth the eight special qualifications
of ultimate reality, not ceased, not produced, not permanent, not
annihilated, and so on.
This objective identification of the actuality of things
Contains complete in one the indivisible Three Bodies.
The Truth Body, the voidness free of intrinsic status,
The Beatific Body, bright with freedom’s natural energy,
The Emanation Body ceaselessly arising everywhere—
Its reality is these three complete in one.
Here, Padma indicates how the Three Bodies of perfect
Buddhahood are present in everything, and cannot be excluded
from transparency, from the infinite nonduality of universal
perfection. Thus the entrance herein is not just a mental leap into a
subtle realm of blissful aloofness, but into a pure immediacy, a
total presence that expands infinitely into contact with all reality,
beyond the duality of simplicity and complexity.
To introduce the forceful method to enter this very reality,
Your own awareness right now is just this!
It being just this uncontrived natural clarity,
Why do you say, “I don’t understand the nature of the mind”?
As here there is nothing to meditate upon,
In just this uninterrupted clarity intelligence,
Why do you say, “I don’t see the actuality of the mind”?
Since the thinker in the mind is just it,
Why do you say, “Even searching I can’t find it”?
Since here there is nothing to be done,
Why do you say, “Whatever I do, it doesn’t succeed”?
As it is sufficient to stay put uncontrived,
Why do you say, “I can’t stay still”?
As it is all right to be content with inaction,
Why do you say, “I am not able to do it”?
Since clear, aware, and void are automatically indivisible,
Why do you say, “Practice is not effective”?
Since it is natural, spontaneous, free of cause and condition,
Why do you say, “Seeking, it cannot be found”?
Since thought and natural liberation are simultaneous,
Why do you say, “Remedies are impotent”?
Since your very intelligence is just this,
Why do you say, “I do not know this”?
These expressions are quite simple, though their impact is
profound. Padma challenges the ordinary thought-habits through
which we separate ourselves from the experience and
responsibility of simply understanding our actuality and so being
invited to live according to that understanding in freedom.
Be sure mind’s nature is groundless voidness;
Your mind is insubstantial like empty space—
Like it or not, look at your own mind!
Not fastening to the view of annihilative voidness,
Be sure spontaneous wisdom has always been clear,
Spontaneous in itself like the essence of the sun—
Like it or not, look at your own mind!
Be sure that intelligent wisdom is uninterrupted,
Like a continuous current of a river—
Like it or not, look at your own mind!
Be sure it will not be known by thinking various reasons,
Its movement insubstantial like breezes in the sky—
Like it or not, look at your own mind!
Be sure that what appears is your own perception.
Appearance is natural perception, like a reflection in a mirror—
Like it or not, look at your own mind.
Be sure that all signs are liberated on the spot,
Self-originated, self-delivered, like clouds in sky—
Like it or not, look at your own mind!
There is no thing not included in the mind,
Where is meditation other than from the mind?
There is no thing not included in the mind,
There is no teaching to practice other than mind-practice.
There is no thing not included in the mind,
There is no commitment to maintain outside the mind.
There is no thing not included in the mind,
There is no goal to be achieved outside the mind.
Look again! Look again! Look at your own mind!
Looking out there into the realm of space,
The mind will not emanate its reflections;
Looking here within your own mind,
There is no emanator of mind’s emanations.
Your mind is clarity without hallucinations.
It is the Truth Body, self-aware, clear light voidness,
Cloudless and translucent like sunrise in the sky,
Unrestricted by forms, it is clearly known everywhere.
Whether you realize this point or not makes a great difference.
This primally unproduced, spontaneous clear light,
A wonder that this awareness-child lacks parents!
This spontaneous wisdom, a wonder no one made it!
Having never known a birth, a wonder it can never die!
Obviously clear, a wonder it lacks a seer!
Wandering in the cycle, a wonder it is not real evil!
Beholding Buddhahood, a wonder it is not real good!
Being everywhere, a wonder it does not know reality!
Beyond this, a wonder it hopes for other fruits!
It being yourself, a wonder you seek it elsewhere!
Ema! This brilliant, thingless, now-awareness,
Just this is the pinnacle of all views!
This nonperceiving, universal, total freedom,
Just this is the pinnacle of all meditation!
This uncontrived, relaxed approach to life,
Just this is the pinnacle of all conduct!
This unsought, primal, effortless achievement,
Just this is the pinnacle of accomplishments!
The teaching of the Universal Vehicle’s four inerrancies:
This great vehicle is unerring in view,
As it is this brilliant now-awareness,
Called “vehicle” since clear and unerring.
This great vehicle is unerring in meditation,
As it is this brilliant now-awareness,
Called “vehicle” since clear and unerring.
This great vehicle is unerring in conduct,
As it is this brilliant now-wisdom,
Called “vehicle” since clear and unerring.
This great vehicle is unerring in fruition,
As it is this brilliant now-awareness,
Called “vehicle” since clear and unerring.
Teaching the four great nails of changelessness:
This great nail of changeless view
Is just this brilliant conscious now-awareness,
Called “nail” since firm in the three times.
This great nail of changeless meditation
Is just this brilliant conscious now-awareness,
Called “nail” since firm in the three times.
This great nail of changeless conduct
Is just this brilliant conscious now-awareness,
Called “nail” since firm in the three times.
This great nail of changeless fruition
Is just this brilliant conscious now-awareness,
Called “nail” since firm in the three times.
The instruction teaching oneness of three times:
Abandon the notion “past,” not following former traces;
Sever mental connections, not following future plans;
Hold not the now, stay in the experience of space.
Free of meditation, do not meditate on anything,
Rely on mindfulness, undistracted without distraction,
Free of concentration and distraction, nakedly behold.
Self-aware, self-knowing, self-clear brilliance,
Just that arising is “enlightened spirit,” Unmeditatable, beyond being object of
Undistractible, natural bright clarity.
Vision-voidness natural liberation
Is brilliant void Body of Truth.
Realizing Buddhahood is not achieved by paths—
Vajrasattva is beheld right now.
The instruction to terminate the six extremes:
Though there is a huge number of discordant views,
In this self-aware mind, this self-original wisdom,
There is no duality of view and viewed.
Seek the viewer in viewing and not viewing.
When the viewer is sought it is not found,
So then the end of views is reached.
The impact of the view comes down just to that!
In the total absence of any view to view,
Don’t sink to the false void of utter nothing,
The clear brilliance of self-aware now-consciousness—
Just that is the view of Great Perfection!
Here, there is no realizing-not-realizing duality.
Though there is a huge number of discordant meditations,
On the straight-up path of self-aware common consciousness,
There is no duality of meditation and meditated.
Seeking the agent of meditating and not meditating,
When you seek the meditator and do not find it,
Then the end of meditations has been reached.
The impact of meditation comes down just to that.
In the utter absence of meditation and meditated,
Don’t succumb to the wild darkness of delusion.
In the clear brilliance of uncontrived now-consciousness,
That is the uncontrived and balanced contemplation.
Here, there is no abiding-nonabiding dualism.
Though there is a huge number of discordant ethics,
In the exclusive drop of self-aware wisdom
There is no duality of actor and acted.
Seek the agent of acting and not acting;
Seeking that actor itself, it is not found,
Then you reach the end of ethical actions.
The essence of ethics comes down just to that.
In that utter absence of action and acted,
Don’t succumb to the errors of impulsive instinct.
In the uncontrived clear brilliance of now-consciousness,
Without choosing or being deceived by contrivance,
Just that is the perfect ethical action,
Free of the dualism of perfect and imperfect.
Though there is a huge number of discordant fruitions,
In the self-aware mind, itself the effortless Three Bodies,
There is no duality of attained and attaining.
Seek the attainer itself of the fruition!
Seeking that attainer itself, it is not found,
Thus the end of projected fruitions is reached.
The essence of fruition comes down just to that.
In that utter absence of attainment of fruition,
Don’t succumb to worry about abandoning and undertaking.
This effortless clear brilliance of self-aware now-consciousness,
Is itself the realization of the manifest Three Bodies.
It is itself the fruition of the primal Buddhahood.
This knowing, free of eight extremes like being and nothing,
Is called the center, not collapsed in any extreme;
It is called uninterrupted mindful, aware intelligence.
As it has the essence of voidness and awareness,
It is named the “essence of the Blissful Lords.”
If you know this import, you transcend everything,
So it is called Transcendent Wisdom.
Since it surpasses mind, free of limit and origin,
It is called the Great Seal!
Thus, realizing it or not realizing it is the foundation
Of liberation and bound life, happiness and suffering—
So it is called the universal foundation.
Since it abides in nothing special, the inner space of the normal,
That very distinct, brilliant consciousness itself
Is given the name normal consciousness.
Whatever well-conceived poetic name it may be given,
In fact, other than just this self-aware now-consciousness,
Who would want anything more?
Like looking for its tracks when you have the elephant,
Scanning the whole universe, it’s impossible to find.
Except through mind, it’s impossible to reach Buddhahood.
Not recognizing this, if you seek mind outside,
Looking for something else, how can it find itself?
It is like a fool gawking at a crowd,
Forgetting himself among them,
Not recognizing himself, looking for himself,
M istaking others for himself.
If you do not see the basic reality of things, not knowing
Your perceptions as your mind, you deliver yourself to the life cycle.
Not seeing your mind as Buddha, you obscure Nirvana.
Life and liberation, by knowing and not knowing,
In an instant there is no distinction between them.
Seeing one’s mind as elsewhere is an error;
But erring and not erring are actually the same.
A being has no second continuum of mind;
When mind is left in itself unmade, it’s free.
If you don’t know error itself as mind,
You’ll never realize the impact of reality,
Self-arisen, self-created, self looks into self,
These visions first arise from where?
Where do they stay in the meanwhile?
Finally, where do they go?
It’s like a crow’s reflection in a pond;
It flies up from the pond, but the reflection doesn’t leave.
So perceptions arise from the mind;
Rising from the mind, they are freed in the mind.
M ind itself, this clear void all-knowing, all aware,
It is like sky, primal clarity-voidness indivisible.
In the clarity of original intuitive wisdom,
Just that determination is reality.
The reason is that all appearance and existence
Is known as your own mind; and this mind itself
Is realized, spacelike, in its intelligence and clarity.
Though the example of space refers to reality,
It is just a symbol that rather partially does so;
M ind itself is universally clear, void, and intelligent.
And space is unintelligent void, free of solid objects.
Thus space cannot fully illustrate the import of mind—
Do not vacillate, but focus on mind’s actual reality.
All this superficial appearance
Is exclusively truth-status-free, like fear.
For example, all appearance and existence, life and liberation,
Is beheld uniquely as your natural mind.
Then, just by transforming the process of your mind,
You can perceive your transformation of the outer world.
Therefore everything is the perception of the mind,
The six migrations each have their specific perceptions,
The outsider fundamentalists have their absolutisms and nihilisms.
The nine vehicles each have their individual views.
Seeing variety, distinguishing variety,
They err by holding dichotomies and clinging to distinctions.
All appearances understood as mind,
Seeing all without any grasping, one awakens.
One does not err by perceiving, one errs by clinging;
But knowing clinging itself as mind, it frees itself.
All you perceive is the perception of mind,
Apparent inanimate objects of environment are mind.
Apparent animate six kinds of beings are mind.
Apparent happiness of higher humans and gods are mind.
Apparent horrid-state sufferings are mind.
Apparent misknowing five addictive poisons are mind.
Apparent original wisdom intelligence is mind.
Apparent realization of goodness and liberation are mind.
Apparent obstructions of devils and ghosts are mind.
Apparent good of deities and accomplishments are mind.
Apparent various purities are mind.
Apparent nonconceptual, one-pointed focus is mind.
Apparent things’ signs and colors are mind.
Apparent signless nonelaboration is mind.
Apparent nonduality of one and many is mind.
Apparent lack of being- and nothing-status is mind.
Nothing is apparent outside of the mind.
M ind-reality ceaselessly dawns as all appearance.
Dawning, nondual like water and waves of oceans,
It is liberated in the experiential reality of mind.
Though names are ceaselessly designated to referents,
Objectively nothing exists outside the unity of mind.
That unity is groundless and rootlessly free.
It cannot be seen in one vision in any direction;
It is not seen as something, as it is free of any status,
It is not seen as void, for it shines as intelligent clarity,
And it is not seen separately, void and clarity being nondual.
Now your own awareness is clear and distinct;
Though it acts so, an agent is not known.
Though free of intrinsic reality, experiences are perceived.
If you practice this, you will be fully liberated.
You will realize regardless of the sharpness of your faculties.
Though both sesame and milk produce oil or butter,
They will not without pressing or churning.
Though all beings are the actual essence of Buddhahood,
They won’t awaken without practice.
With practice, even a cowherd will awaken;
Though he can’t explain, he can directly determine.
Tasting the sugar in your mouth,
You don’t need others to explain it.
If they don’t understand this reality, even pandits will err. Though they’re expert in
explaining the nine vehicles,
It’s like giving directions from hearsay to where they’ve never been—
They haven’t been even close to Buddhahood for an instant.
If you realize this reality, you’re naturally free from virtue and vice.
If you don’t, all your virtues and vices bring lives in heavens or hells.
Just realizing your mind as void intuitive wisdom,
Virtue and vice cannot enforce their effects.
Just as a fountain cannot spring forth from empty sky,
So virtue and vice are de-objectified in voidness.
Therefore, to see intuitively your own naked intelligence,
This Natural Liberation Through Naked Vision is extremely deep.
So investigate this reality of your own intelligence.
Profound! Sealed!
EM A! O Wonder, Identifying Intelligence,
The Natural Liberation Through Naked Vision,
Is for the benefit of later generations of beings in the decadent era,
As I composed all my Tantras, Scriptures, and Instructions,
However few and brief, with them in mind.
Though I teach them now, I conceal them as treasures—
M ay those with good evolution come to discover them!
This treatise clearly identifying intelligence, called The
Natural Liberation Through Naked Vision, composed by the
Abbot from Udyana, Padma Sambhava, may it never be lost until
the end of the life cycle!
adamantine. The Sanskrit vajra means “thunderbolt,” “diamond,” “adamantine,” and so
forth, various objects connoting immutability and unbreakability. In Vedic India it was
the weapon of the tribal father-god, Indra, a kind of thunderbolt grenade that he threw
down from the heavens to break the citadels of the enemy. The Buddhists took this
primal symbol of the supreme power of the universe and made it a symbol of universal
love and compassion, in order to affirm their vision that love is the strong force in the
universe. Thus vajra is used in names of Buddha-deities to indicate that they are in touch
through wisdom with the realm of ultimate reality and that they express the natural
universal compassion.
adept, great. “Adept” is used to translate the Sanskrit siddha, referring to a practitioner
of Tantra who has attained Buddhahood in his or her ordinary body, having gone beyond
life, death, and the between, yet remaining in association with his or her previous gross
body in order to relate liberatively with contemporary beings.
aggregates. From the Sanskrit skandha, literally meaning “heap.” There are five of these
aggregates, constituting the normal sentient being’s body-mind complex: those of form,
sensation, conception, volition, and consciousness. They are called “aggregates” to
indicate their lack of fixed structure, that they are rather loosely coherent masses of
items in their respective categories, which themselves are merely heuristic. Thus the
scheme of the aggregates is used contemplatively to allow the self-investigator to
discover his reality of freedom from rigid self.
AH. A mantra, or mantric seed-syllable, which symbolizes the speech of all Buddhas,
called the “speech-vajra of all Buddhas.” It is associated with the Beatific Body, the
color ruby, and the throat complex of the Tantric practitioner.
Akshobhya. One of the five Archetypal M ild Buddhas, Lord of the Vajra Buddha-clan,
associated with the eastern direction and the Buddha-land Abhirati. In the Natural
Liberation, he represents the mirror wisdom, the transmutation of the poison of
delusion, the color blue, and the aggregate of form. His Buddha-consort is
Buddhalochana, his male bodhisattva attendants are Kshitigarbha and M aitreya, his
female bodhisattvas are Lasya and Pushpa. In the Natural Liberation, he is sometimes
referred to as Vajrasattva, perhaps due to the fact that he is the Buddha of the Vajra clan.
all-accomplishing wisdom. This is one of the five wisdoms. Resulting from the
transmutation of envy, it is associated with the emerald and the color green, and with the
Archetype Buddha Amoghasiddhi. It is called “all-accomplishing” or “wonder-working”
because it is the wisdom that can coordinate the efforts of many beings; its opposite,
envy, is what keeps beings in a state of conflict. The idea is that, once beings’ energies
work together instead of against each other, there is nothing they cannot accomplish,
including miracles.
All-around Goodness. In the Natural Liberation and in the teachings of the Nyingma
Order in general, the Buddha Samantabhadra, in male and female forms, is a kind of UrBuddha or primal Buddha, a Buddha-form very close to the absolute reality of the
universe. His/her name means “All-around Goodness” to indicate that the deepest reality
of everything is freedom itself, that which allows the happiness of beings and therefore
that which they consider utter goodness. Samantabhadra is a famous Bodhisattva in the
Universal Vehicle literature, who is already associated with omnipresence, having the
special tendency to manifest himself simultaneously and infinitely in all subatomic
particles of all universes while maintaining his presence in his ground dimension.
Amitabha. One of the five Archetypal M ild Buddhas, Lord of the Lotus Buddha-clan,
associated with the western direction and the Buddha-land Sukhavati. In the Natural
Liberation, he represents the individuating wisdom, the transmutation of the poison of
lust, the color red, and the aggregate of conception. His Buddha-consort is Pandaravasini.
Amitabha is especially famous in Asia because of the Pure Land Sutra (the
Sukhavativyuha), in which a method is taught for the ordinary person to rely on the
compassion of Amitabha in order to attain rebirth in his Buddha-land. This formed the
basis of the Pure Land School of popular Buddhism that attracted numerous adherents
throughout the Universalist Buddhist world.
Amoghasiddhi. One of the five Archetypal M ild Buddhas, Lord of the Karma Buddhaclan, associated with the northern direction and the Buddha-land Prakuta, also called
Karmasampat, “Evolutionary Success.” In the Natural Liberation, he represents the allaccomplishing wisdom, the transmutation of the poison of envy, the color green, and the
aggregate of volition. His Buddha consort is Tara, sometimes called Samayatara.
angel. I use “angel” to translate the Sanskrit dakini, a fierce and also erotic female deity
that appears to practitioners of the Tantra to teach, inspire, assist, and admonish. The
Vajradakini, “Diamond Angel,” is a female form of perfect Buddhahood, the female
equivalent of a Heruka, a male, Herculean, Buddha-deity manifestation.
Archetype Buddha, or Deity. This translates the Tibetan yi dam (Skt. ishthadevata), a
deity-form of enlightenment chosen by a Tantric practitioner as a model of her ideal goal
of embodied enlightenment. The archetype Buddha or archetype deity can be
approached as an independent being in some ritual, contemplative, and narrative
contexts, while it can also be adopted as a contemplative role-model, in practices in
which the yogini or yogi identifies with the deity and seeks to become the deity itself.
Thus the deity’s form becomes an ideal or archetypal structure of the enlightenment
desired by the practitioner.
Avalokiteshvara. The “Lord who does not look away from suffering,” Avalokiteshvara
is a celestial Bodhisattva (a dedicated seeker of enlightenment) who is the archetype of
universal compassion throughout the Buddhist world. Actually, he already became a
Buddha millions of eons ago, but vowed that he would emanate as millions of
Bodhisattvas after attaining the perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood, in order to stay
close to suffering beings and to help them find their freedom and happiness. In his
celestial forms, he is associated with the Buddha Amitabha, being a member of the Lotus
Buddha-clan. In his male forms he is associated with benevolent kingship throughout
Buddhist Asia (His Holiness the Dalai Lama is believed to be an emanation of
Avalokiteshvara), as well as with the fierce deity forms who protect beings from evil,
such as the horse-head-crowned Hayagriva (Padma Sambhava himself is believed to be a
terrific emanation of Avalokiteshvara). In his female forms he is associated with
nurturing mother-figures such as White Tara and Kuanyin, and with fierce savioressfigures such as Green Tara, Shri Devi, and others. In the Natural Liberation,
Avalokiteshvara is often invoked as the “Lord of Compassion.”
awareness. Synonym of consciousness, intelligence, and mind. Buddhist languages have
a rich vocabulary for aspects of mind and subtle mental states, due to the Buddhist sense
of the power and importance of mind in the universe. On the subtlest levels, awareness
in the form of wisdom can be associated with colors, forms, and even energies and
substances, such as the subtle neurotransmitter red and white drops in the subtle body.
M ore usually, awareness is differentiated from the material realm, and a complex mindmatter dualism is sustained as a way of keeping mindful of the elusive nature of reality,
ever resisting the naive reductionism of dogmatic theorists.
Beatific. The adjective from “beatitude,” used to translate the Sanskrit sambhoga, the
term for the Bliss Body of Buddhahood. The evolutionary perfection of Buddhahood is
said to be experienced in the form of Three Bodies, of which this Body represents the
ultimate, subtle subjective enjoyment of being a Buddha as a being who has realized
perfect union with the infinite freedom of ultimate reality (see Body).
between, the. “Between” is used in at least three senses: its basic colloquial sense of the
whole period between death and rebirth; its technical sense in the set of the six betweens,
the life, dream, meditation, death-point, reality, and existence betweens; and in the sense
of “phase of a between,” where the experience of a particular period in one of the six
betweens is itself called a between.
between-being. A being who has passed through death and whose mind, soul, or lifecontinuum has emerged from the gross body of the lost life, has embodied itself in a
subtle energy, “mind-imaged” body, similar to the simulated embodiment of
consciousness in a dream, and experiences the processes in the between of wandering in
search of either liberation or an ordinary rebirth. bliss (bliss-void indivisible). Sanskrit
sukha means “happiness” as the opposite of duhkha, “suffering,” in a range from
modest relief and comfort up to physical orgasmic bliss and supreme spiritual bliss. In
the tantric context, the Universalist emphasis on compassion—the will to relieve the
suffering of others—transmutes into the implementation of love, the will to provide
happiness to others, and so the conscious cultivation of bliss becomes a technical
concern. To transmit happiness to others, one must develop one’s own happiness to
overflowing. Thus, the highest tantric expression of the nonduality of relative and
absolute realities is the term “bliss-void indivisible,” where bliss is the relative, wisdomgenerated forms of the Buddhaverse and void is the ultimate freedom reality that makes
such creativity possible.
bodhisattva. The Sanskrit bodhisattva is composed of bodhi, meaning “enlightenment”
(wisdom of selflessness, selfless compassion), and sattva, meaning “being” or
“hero/heroine.” M ost simply, it means someone who has dedicated himself or herself to
do whatever it takes over countless lifetimes in order to attain perfect enlightenment in
order to save all beings from suffering. A being becomes a bodhisattva by conceiving the
spirit of enlightenment, through 1) imagining the possibility of enlightened
consciousness, 2) seeing how it alone gives the ability effectively to help others find
their happiness, 3) seeing how dedicating all one’s lives of efforts toward that goal is the
only sensible way to live, and 4) resolving to undertake that universal responsibility
oneself. This transformation from ordinary being to “enlightenment hero/heroine” is
formally sealed by the solemn taking of the vow of the bodhisattva. Thus a beginner
bodhisattva need not be very advanced in enlightenment, merely firmly dedicated to
universal love and compassion. In the modern context, it is important to mention that the
messianic bodhisattva vow only makes sense for those who feel convinced that they are
going to be around in the life-process for an infinite future in any case, so they might as
well undertake the saving of all beings. Such a messianic complex would be insane for
those who consider their existence to last only one lifetime; there would never be time
for such a universal saving of beings, and so such pressure would be pointless.
Bodhisattva. When capitalized, it refers to those bodhisattvas who have long cultivated
their spirit of enlightenment and have become nearly Buddhas, or else have already
become Buddhas and are still manifesting as Bodhisattvas in order to let beings feel more
close to them.
body isolation. This refers to the first of the five perfection stages, a stage wherein the
body becomes isolated from ordinariness of experience, and concretely reenvisioned as a
wisdom-perfected body expressing the compassion of all Buddhas.
body, speech, and mind. This triad is very basic in Buddhist thought, being the three
levels of evolutionary existence. Buddhist ethics divides its ten basic laws into three of
the body, not to kill, steal, or commit sexual misconduct; four of speech, not to lie,
slander, chatter, or revile; and three of mind, not to covet, hate, or hold misguided views.
A person must therefore be responsible for herself on all three levels. At Buddhahood,
the triad becomes the Three Buddha Bodies, ordinary body becoming the Emanation
Body, speech the Beatific Body, and mind the Truth Body.
Body (the Three Buddha Bodies). A Buddha is no longer an ordinary being, a selfhabit-ridden individual caught inside his skin. So Buddhists developed a number of ways
of expressing the extraordinary qualities of the experience of enlightenment. The Three
Bodies is one of the most important of these. At enlightenment the ordinary mind
expands in an experience of oneness with the infinity of beings and things, which
becomes a permanent awareness, called the Body of Truth, or Body of Reality. This is
the highest fruit of wisdom, a state of virtual omniscience, Nirvana—a perfect, ultimate
freedom, and the uttermost fulfillment of all selfish concerns. At the same time, the
ordinary speech and body do not lose their continua of life. Body and speech are
anyway seen by Buddhists as being interactive, the body reaching out from selfcenteredness to touch other persons and things, and speech communicating the content
of mind to others, linking mind to mind. Therefore the continuum of speech expands as a
celebration of the mind’s attainment of infinite oneness, becoming a consummate and
infinite joy experienced as a Body of Beatitude, which is a sort of subtle or ethereal body
made of the sheer joy at being free of suffering, at having realized the absolute nature of
reality. It is as infinite as reality, a subtle radiant omnipresence of a Buddha’s joy
throughout all things. Finally, the continuum of ordinary body expands with
enlightenment into an Emanation Body, a limitless number of individuated manifestations
which arise out of the background energy of the Beatific Body, when a Buddha wishes to
interact with ordinary beings, who cannot perceive their oneness with the Beatific
presence in and around them, who persist in the misknowing individual theater of
suffering and alienation. For them, infinite mind and speech magically create whatever
gross embodiments are appropriate to relate to them, to liberate them from their
suffering, and ultimately to inspire them to discover their own enlightenment and their
own beatitude. These Three Buddha Bodies are aligned with the ordinary processes of
death, between, and life, with sleep, dream, and waking, as well as with mind, speech,
and body. (See this page and following pages.)
body-mind complex. This is schematized in various ways in Buddhist contemplative
sciences. The five aggregates mentioned above are one of the schemes. In the tantric
context, the scheme of gross, subtle, and extremely subtle is important in the analysis of
the death, between, and rebirth processes. The gross is the ordinary body-mind, the
elemental body as nexus of the five sense organs coordinated with the six sense
consciousnesses. The subtle is the “diamond body” of neural channels, winds, and drops
coordinated with the three subtle intuitions, luminance, radiance, and imminence. And
the extremely subtle is the indestructible drop made of the subtlest wind-energies
coordinated with the clear light transparency intuition, the subtlest mind and the seed of
enlightenment. (See this page.)
Buddha. An Awakened or Enlightened Being, defined as one who has reached the peak
of evolution, by developing his or her wisdom and compassion over countless lifetimes
until both have become perfect. Wisdom is perfect when all things are understood by it,
and compassion is perfect when all beings are liberated by it; a Buddha is thus said to
have completely fulfilled both his or her own self-interest as well as all altruistic concern
for the needs of others. A Buddha is said to possess Three Bodies, the Bodies of Truth,
Beatitude, and Emanation (see Body). Shakyamuni, who lived in India about 2500 years
ago, is the historical Buddha of our era on this planet. He is sometimes called “the
Buddha,” or “Buddha,” but it is not his personal name. In the absolute sense, there is
only one Buddha, as the Truth Bodies of different Buddhas cannot be distinguished from
each other. But in the relative sense, there are countless Buddhas, as each being who
perfects evolution enjoys his or her own Beatitude and extends his or her Emanations for
the sake of other beings. A Buddha can manifest as either male or female, or as both male
and female in union.
Buddha-clan. See clan.
Buddha-couple. See couple.
Buddha-deity. See Archetype Buddha.
Buddha-land. Sanskrit buddhakshetra refers to the environment of a Buddha, indicating
that the evolutionary transmutation of the finite individual into an infinite body of
awareness takes the environment with it, so to speak. As beings are relational nexi of
relative self and environment, the enlightened transformation of one implies the
transformation of the other. Usually, in popular Buddhism, this is most recognizably
expressed in the descriptions of the heavenly Buddha-lands of the archetype Buddhas,
such as Amitabha of the western Buddha-land, Sukhavati; these environments are as
otherworldly and unearthly as they are radiant and exquisite. M y personal popular term
for Buddha-land is “Buddhaverse,” which I oppose to “universe,” the latter being a
world turning around the single, self-centered individual, and the former being a world
turning around enlightened wisdom where self and other are ultimately indistinguishable.
Buddhaverse. See Buddha-land.
channels. Sanskrit nadi (Tib. rtsa) refers to pathways of neural energies within the
subtle nervous system of the Tantric yogi or yogini. These are considered physical, and
are clearly somewhat analogous to the central nervous system of modern physiology,
including the brain, spine, and various nerve ganglia. However, just as clearly they
constitute the structure of the subtle body, and they are closed, and so in a sense not
present, in ordinary beings who have not opened them by means of a systematic
contemplative experimental program of visualization and exercise. I prefer to think of
them as a holographic patterning that can be imposed upon the central nervous system
by the stabilized and cultivated imagination, something like a software channeling of
electrical impulses in certain magnetic patterns around a hard disc of a computer. The
channels worked with by yogis of the Natural Liberation consist of the main central
(mid-brow to crown, down the spine to the coccyx, and to the genital tip) channel, the
avadhuti, with its right and left rasana and lalana channels, passing through the center
of the five wheels or lotuses at brain, throat, heart, navel, and genital levels, each wheel
having its own specific structure.
Chemchok, Chemchok Heruka. This is the central archetype Buddha-deity of the
Secret Essence (Guhyagarbha) Tantra, highly popular in the Nyingma Order of Tibetan
Buddhism, and of salient importance in the Natural Liberation, figuring as the main Lord
among the fierce deities, as Samantabhadra does among the mild deities. As a “Heruka,”
he is a Herculean, “blood-drinking” male deity, symbolizing the adamantine power of
enlightenment to overwhelm all evil and negativity of the world. The critical fire of
wisdom transmutes the “blood”—the essential constitutive energy of the sufferingpermeated life cycle—into the elixir-fuel of the dynamism of liberation, the power of
compassion. He has many forms, ranging from one with one face and two arms and two
legs up to a thousand-headed and thousand-armed figure.
chopper. This is the kartari, the vajra-scepter-handled curved knife held in the right
hand of many of the fierce deities, especially the female ones, symbolizing critical,
analytic, dissective wisdom, which cuts through and chops up all delusive appearances
of intrinsic substantiality, reducing all things to voidness and hence to suitability for
transformation into wisdom manifestations of liberating beauty.
clan (the five Buddha-clans). Sanskrit kula is often translated as “family,” which has
the modern connotation of nuclear family, of parents and children. “Clan” conveys the
ancient extended family that includes cousins, uncles, aunts, and so forth, which is more
appropriate for the Buddha kula, which include a larger number of members. In the
Natural Liberation, the five clans are the Buddha, Vajra, Jewel, Lotus, and Evolution
clans, respectively fathered by the five Buddhas: Vairochana, Akshobhya,
Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and Amoghasiddhi. They are mothered by the female
Buddhas Vajra Dhatvishvari, Lochana, M amaki, Pandaravasini, and Tara, and each
includes a number of male and female Bodhisattvas, fierce deities, and adept heroes and
clear light (transparency). Sanskrit prabhasvara indicates the subtlest light that
illuminates the profoundest reality of the universe. It is a light like glass, like diamond,
like the predawn twilight, different from the lights of sun, moon, and Rahu, the planet of
the darkness. It is an inconceivable light, beyond the duality of bright and dark, a light of
the self-luminosity of all things. Hence “transparency” is a good rendering, as is “clear
light,” as long as “clear” is understood as “transparent” and not as “bright.”
Clear S cience Collection. One of the three collections of the texts of the Tibetan
Buddhist sciences, the collection of the analytic and systematic teachings of the higher
education in wisdom.
compassion. Sanskrit karuna means the will to free others from suffering, based on an
empathetic sensitivity to that suffering. Its opposite is hatred, which wills others to
suffer. Its counterpart is love, which wills others to have happiness along with freedom
from suffering. Universal compassion is considered the automatic reflex of perfect
wisdom, since the realization of essential selflessness is an experience of the ultimate
unity of self and other, which causes the suffering of others to become one’s own,
making the will to eliminate it spontaneous and immediate.
consort. This refers to the partner, either male or female, but more usually female, in a
Buddha-couple, such as Vajra Dhatvishvari, Vairochana’s consort. Sometimes the Father
and M other in a Buddha Father-M other couple are considered different divine beings,
sometimes only the double manifestation of a single being. The Buddhist belief is that all
beings, whatever their superficial sexual identity, are potentially both male and female—
each has male and female aspects and energies in his or her being. The empathetic ability
to transcend sexual identity-habits is cultivated by Tantric archetype meditation,
wherein a male will meditate on himself as a female archetype Buddha, a female will
meditate on herself as a male archetype Buddha, and both will meditate on themselves as
a male and female Buddha-couple in union. See couple.
continuum, life-continuum. Sanskrit samtana refers to the energy-continuity of a
living being that proceeds from moment to moment in a life and from life to life in an
individual’s evolutionary progression. It is an important concept because the Buddhist
critique of fixed self makes language of “soul” and “essence” relatively rare—though not
totally absent—in most contexts.
couple, Buddha-couple. Tibetan sangs rgyas yab yum, literally “Buddha FatherM other,” refers to a single enlightened individual as two beings, male and female in union.
This is not as puzzling as it might seem, if we remember that the enlightenment
transmutation is a passage from being a bounded, singular, self-centered individual,
usually with one sexual identity or another in a given life, into being an infinite, multibodied, omnipresent, universalized individual capable of manifesting whatever
embodiment interacts most beneficially with whomsoever. The manifestation as a pair in
sexual union intends to demonstrate the union of wisdom (M other) and compassion
(Father), showing the capacity to adopt all beings, helping them out of the life cycle of
suffering and giving them a new life of happiness in the Buddhaverse.
creation stage. The first stage of the practice of the Unexcelled Yoga Tantras, the stage
involving the visualizational creation out of emptiness of the pure realm of
enlightenment, the mandala palace and its environment and ornament, and the pure
embodiment of enlightenment, the Archetype Deity with its blissful body, speech, and
Dakini. See angel.
darkness, dark-light. The subjective experiential sign of attaining the deepest level of
the subtle mind, the level of “imminence,” where one is in a state of being about to enter
the clear light of the ultimate. It is likened to a cloudless darkened sky, thus a bright
blackness, not a mere absence of light. In the first part of this state one is consciously
endarkened, and in the final moment of it one loses consciousness as well, passing
immediately into the transparent state beyond consciousness and unconsciousness, as it
is sometimes described.
death. This is the point of freedom when the subtle mind, indestructible clear light drop,
or soul of a particular life loses connection with the embodiment of that life. It is
perhaps beyond consciousness and unconsciousness, though ordinary people transit it
unconsciously, never noticing the all-too-rapid (for them) transition from the
unconscious segment of imminence into clear light and back into imminence. Death is
understood as a pure negation, a perfect zero, a timeless moment, a widthless boundary,
and it is aligned with absolute reality, with the Body of Truth, with the ultimate clear
light. A Buddha, an enlightened being, is thus one whose death is her infinite body of
ultimate reality, her concrete permanent resting place, which nevertheless not only never
obstructs her relative experience of the interconnected realm of beings, but makes it
indivisible from freedom and openness and therefore perfectly blissful. Needless to say,
such a being is no longer afraid of death.
death-point between. The same as death (see above) in the technical terminology of the
Natural Liberation, referring to the scheme of the six betweens (see between). The
death-point between is the boundary between the life between and the reality between.
The death-point between is the inconceivable moment when all beings are as close as
possible to their own highest enlightenment. It is the point of ultimate freedom, where
the reality of freedom becomes most manifest. So if a being is prepared, ready, and
focused, it is the moment when the bonds of evolutionary karma can be broken and
liberation and enlightenment can be attained. Therefore, it marks the very center of the
Natural Liberation.
deity. Sanskrit devata is an Indo-European cognate with Latin deus, so the translation
choice is rather obvious. Buddhism was mistaken by early European scholars as
“atheistic,” projecting back into Buddhist Asia a kind of nineteenth-century secularistic
naturalism. In fact, Buddhists do not accept the idea of an omnipotent, world Creator,
but many believe in a pantheon of deities in an elaborate range of heavens—a total of
around twenty-seven layers of heavens in the desire, pure form, and formless realms.
These heavens contain untold billions of deities, ranging from what we might think of as
jewel-bodied angels, seraphs, and cherubs, to vast energy-field deities as big and as longlived as universes, to subtle, virtually disembodied, formless realm deities. In the context
of Universalist and Tantric teachings and practices, the enlightened Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas can be envisioned and encountered in such deity forms, usually the more
angelic, jewel forms of the desire realm deities. They aim to open the imaginations of
suffering beings to the expanded power of enlightened beings, either to reach out to us, or
to provide us with role-models for reaching out to others as we become enlightened. So
the deities in the Natural Liberation are called Buddhas or Archetype Deities in such a
Dharma. One of the Three Jewels, the Jewel of the Buddha’s teaching. It can also mean
the ultimate reality itself that is taught in the teachings, the path that leads to its
realization, the qualities that derive from it, and so forth. In Indian usage prior to the
Buddha’s time, it tended to mean “religion,” “law,” “duty,” and “custom,” patterns that
hold human behavior and thought under control. These “pattern-maintaining” meanings
still coexist in Sanskrit and other Buddhist languages with the Buddha’s more liberating
or “pattern-transcending” meanings, causing considerable confusion for translators in
some contexts.
Dhatvishvari. Literally meaning “Queen Goddess of the Realm (of Truth),” this title
suits the female Buddha who is either the female form of the Buddha Vairochana or his
dream between. Another of the six betweens (see between), within the subdivision of
the life between into deep sleep, dream, and waking betweens. Of these three, only the
dream between is singled out as one of the six betweens, because of its important
similarities to the reality and existence betweens. In certain practices, falling asleep is
used as a rehearsal of the death-dissolution process; arising in the subtle body-mind of
the dream is used as a rehearsal of the between-experience; and awakening is used as a
rehearsal of a voluntary rebirth process. The coarse body of the five senses is absent in
the dream between, and the mind fabricates a subtle body for itself out of its own
imagery; it sees with simulated eye-senses, it hears with simulated ear-senses, and, more
rarely, it smells, tastes, and touches with simulated nose-sense, tongue-sense, and skin.
This is considered similar to the way the between-being fabricates a between-state,
mind-made body out of its own image-bank.
drops. Sanskrit bindu refers to chemical essences (something like the modern
neurotransmitters) that focus awareness within the subtle nervous system. In the subtle
body, the channels form the structure, the winds serve as the energies that move things
and cause transformations of experience, and the drops serve as the nodes of subjectivity
that focus awareness within the realm that opens up when consciousness has been
withdrawn from its functions in receiving and coordinating sense-data from the gross
senses. These drops are also associated with the genetic material that is the essence of
the male and female sexual fluids. The yogic mastery of their subtle potentials represents
the sublimation of the creative energies that ordinarily form the suffering life cycle into
the reconstruction of the divine realm of the enlightened mandala. Thus, red drops refer
to the female genetic essence, carried within the blood, and the white drops refer to the
male genetic essence, carried within the semen. This is a difficult and abstruse subject,
but this note can orient you to what is meant by this expression.
education, higher. Sanskrit adhishiksha refers to the three avenues of the experiential
Dharma, the ethical, meditational, and intellectual, the higher educations in justice, mental
concentration, and wisdom, that correspond to the Three Collections of the Vinaya,
Sutra, and Abhid-harma texts. This word is often translated as “training,” which is in the
same area, but which implies a military or animal-training type of discipline, where
behavioral conditioning is the operating principle. The Buddhist task is to bring out the
deep moral sensitivity, the most powerful mental intensity, and the most acute,
comprehensive, and transformative intellectual insight. For these high goals, education, as
the bringing forth of inner potential, seems more appropriate than training, the
imposition of preconceived patterns of conformity.
Emanation Body. See Body.
energy. This term—sometimes “neural energy”—is used for the subtle inner winds that
fuel the subtle body’s activity, moving the drops around the channels. They also create
the extremely subtle body of the indestructible drop that is the ground of the clear-light
enlightened awareness of the subtlest soul. There are five main energies and five branch
energies. The five main energies are the life, evacuative, articulative, digestive, and
pervasive energies, each associated with a particular channel-wheel, with a particular
archetype Buddha, a particular wisdom, and so forth. The branch energies are associated
with the Buddha-consorts, and with the five elements and so forth. These energies are
also important in Buddhist medicine, underlying the technology of acupuncture and the
understanding of most mental as well as many physical disorders.
equalizing wisdom. One of the five wisdoms, this one is associated with the Buddha
Ratnasambhava, the color yellow, the transmutation of pride and miserliness, and the
apotheosis of the sensation aggregate.
esoteric. The Buddha often critiqued teachers for holding back their best teachings, out
of stinginess or lack of compassion for their disciples. However, Buddhism does consider
some teachings better kept secret, or esoteric, until students are advanced enough to
understand them properly. Such was (and still is, in some respects) the tradition
surrounding the Tantras. On the surface, the erotic and terrific imagery of those texts and
arts that are needed for the exploration of the unconscious constitute one good reason for
a modicum of secrecy, as such imagery leads to all sorts of misunderstanding. But more
importantly, secrecy is required to keep ambitious practitioners from getting ahead of
their appropriate stage and hurting themselves by a premature attempt to plumb the
depths of the psyche. Before exploring passions and transmuting them into the path, one
must have achieved a secure capacity for detachment and restraint. Before encountering
the ferocious and terrific forces of the psyche, one must have cultivated a determined
commitment to universal love and compassion that can withstand confrontation with the
demonic. And most importantly, before cultivating Buddha pride and divine confidence
in rehearsing the sense of enlightened identity, one must have a rigorous insight into
identitylessness, to avoid becoming stuck in a delusive enlightenment megalomania.
Thus, while the Natural Liberation consciously opens up the treasury of depth
psychology of the Tantric tradition for the sake of ordinary people to help them face
their deepest crises, some aspects of the path are still kept esoteric.
Esoteric Communion. The Guhyasamaja Tantric tradition, in which the subtleties and
intricacies of Unexcelled Yoga are particularly well explained and systematically arranged
for study and practice, from which many of the ideas in the introduction are drawn.
evolution, evolutionary. Sanskrit karma and karmika, which I translate in this way
because I consider “action” too general, and hence vague. Karma specifically means
mental, verbal, and physical actions that lead to life-affecting and life-constituting
consequences. The modern materialistic worldview considers the structures of our
present lifetimes to have been caused by the genetic reembodiment of the subtly encoded
experiences of millions of previous representatives of our species, through the processes
of biological evolution. The Buddhist worldview considers the structures of our present
lifetimes to be caused by the spiritually genetic reembodiment of our own experiences
from millions of previous lifetimes, subtly encoded in a spiritual gene we bring with us,
combined with the physical genes we receive from our parents, in a complex process of
spiritual and biological evolution.
existence between. Sometimes called the “procreation between,” this is one of the six
betweens, located in the cycle between the reality between and the life between. It is
fully described in the Natural Liberation itself, in the chapter of the translation by that
exoteric. The opposite of esoteric, the kind of teaching and practice that is safe to make
fully public.
extremely subtle body-mind. This nondual combination of the indestructible drop
composed of the subtlest wind-energies and the clear-light enlightened awareness is the
Buddhist soul, that entity or continuum that can be said to progress from life to life, and
to mutate out of the suffering life cycle into enlightenment. See body-mind complex.
Father-Mother, Buddha Father and Mother. See couple.
fierce deity. These are of several kinds: 1) the terrific Buddha forms that manifest
wisdom and compassion in ways needed to overwhelm the habitual fierceness of
egotistical drives and egotistically driven beings; 2) the terrific Bodhisattva forms that
serve as protectors of spiritual persons, defending them against those who would
consume or obstruct them; 3) the wrathful, bloodthirsty worldly deities and spirits who
have given themselves over to anger and hatred, and have thereby become demonic and
harmful. The fierce deities of the Natural Liberation are mostly of the first type, though
a few Bodhisattva protectors are mentioned, such as M ahakala. As fierce as these deities
can appear, they have no hatred in them whatsoever, not even righteous hatred against
evildoers. Their fierceness is “tough love,” tough compassion, like the fierceness of a
mother who scolds her child not to stick its finger in the electric socket. Thus the
previous translation “wrathful deities” was misleading by suggesting they were to some
degree filled with wrath. “Fierce” refers to their manifestation, not a judgment about their
accompanying mental state.
five aggregates. See aggregates.
five Buddhas. Archetype Deities representing the five wisdoms: Vairochana, the
ultimate reality wisdom; Akshobhya, the mirror wisdom; Ratnasambhava, the equalizing
wisdom; Amitabha, the individuating wisdom; and Amoghasiddhi, the all-accomplishing
wisdom. They also represent the transmutation of the five aggregates, consciousness,
form, sensation, conceptions, and volitions, respectively, and the transmutation of the
five poisons, delusion, hate, pride, lust, and envy, respectively. See clan and individual
Buddhas’ names.
five poisons. Delusion, hate, pride, lust, and envy.
five wisdoms. The five poisons mentioned above are transmuted into ultimate reality,
mirror, equalizing, individuating, and all-accomplishing wisdoms.
Form Body. The altruistic aspect of enlightenment, developed from the individual’s
continua of body and speech, subdivided into the Beatific and Emanation Bodies. See
Four Noble Truths. The basic formula the Buddha used to teach his breakthrough
insight into the nature of suffering and the way to freedom from it. The truths are called
“noble,” since they are true for a noble person (defined not in class terms but as one who
has become gentle by realizing selflessness and overcoming egotism), and not for an
alienated, egocentric, deluded individual. The truths are 1) that all delusion-driven life is
suffering; 2) the causes of that suffering are mis-knowledge and evolution; 3) there is
freedom from such suffering; 4) the path to that freedom consists of a spiritual education
in morality, meditation, and scientific wisdom. The first of these truths has attracted the
most notice, but the third is the most important, being the Buddha’s key achievement
and his “good news.” Quite a few people noticed that life is suffering; very few first
achieved, and then taught to others, a practical and effective way to freedom from
Geluk Order. This is the most recent of Tibet’s major monastic orders, founded around
1400 by the Lama Tsong Khapa (1357–1419), based on the older Kadam Order founded
by Atisha (982–1054), Famed for its widespread expansion of monasticism in Tibet, its
scholarship, and its numerous great incarnations, it produced the Dalai Lamas and Tibet’s
unique monastic government.
gene, spiritual. Sanskrit gotra means the seed of one’s propensities, structures,
affinities, and fortune developed from the evolutionary action of previous lives. It is a
gene that constitutes the mind and attitudes of a being, just as the genes of father and
mother structure that being’s body.
great adept. See adept, great.
Great Perfection. Tibetan rdzogs chen means the teaching and practice of the supreme
form of Unexcelled Yoga Tantra, called Atiyoga, in the Nyingma Order of Tibetan
Buddhism. It is expressed very clearly in the Natural Liberation Through Naked Vision
(chapter 8), and is foundational to all the between teachings of the Natural Liberation,
which can be effective only if it is indeed true that the natural reality of everything is
itself liberation, freedom, bliss, and enlightenment. The Great Perfection stresses a
sudden method of forceful entry into the awareness of this reality, the kind of radical
shift of habitual awareness required of a being during the death-point between, when
they must turn back their habitual progressive orientation to the next experience and
confront from the subtlest subjectivity the immediacy of freedom. The Great Perfection
is said to be the step beyond the perfection stage of Unexcelled Yoga Tantra, according to
the way the Nyingma scholars define the perfection stage. The way Tsong Khapa
defines the perfection stage, the Great Perfection corresponds with its fourth and fifth
stages, enlightenment and integration, which correspond to the fourth initiation, the
Great Word Initiation (which is just like Great Perfection teaching in its radical
affirmation of the immediacy of complete enlightenment).
Great S eal. Sanskrit mahamudra indicates the same radical and direct approach to
ultimate realization as the Great Perfection teaching (see above). It is a terminology
based on the notion of reality as a seal of experience, ultimate reality being the supreme
seal of wisdom’s insight, favored in the Kagyu Order of Tibetan Buddhism.
gross body-mind. See body-mind complex.
Guhyasamaja Tantra. See Esoteric Communion.
guru. The Sanskrit word for teacher, it literally means “heavy,” and connotes the sense
of authority possessed by the teacher in the conservative brahminical culture. The
Tibetans translated it as lama, meaning “unexcelled,” allowing the figure to have great
authority, but diminishing the sense of hierarchical superiority.
Hayagriva. The fierce deity form of Avalokiteshvara, very closely associated with
Padma Sambhava himself, the author of the Natural Liberation.
Hero (S cientist), Heroine. Heroes and heroines (Skt. virayogini) are male and female
adepts who have attained perfect Buddhahood through the path of Unexcelled Yoga
Tantra and manifest themselves as deities in order to assist practitioners.
Heruka (Vajra Heruka). A Heruka is a Herculean, “blood-drinking” male Buddha-deity,
symbolizing the adamantine power of enlightenment to overwhelm all evil and negativity
of the world. See Chemchok.
Higher education. The three higher educations are ethical, meditational, and intellectual,
leading to the perfection of justice, samadhi, and wisdom; they constitute the practice of
the eightfold path, which is the fourth Noble Truth.
HUM. This mantra syllable is known as the quintessential “mind-vajra” of all Buddhas,
symbolizing the integration of the universal, absolute, and divine within the particular
individual. Thus it often occurs at the end of mantras, signifying that the spiritual
attainment, deity, or positive energy invoked has been integrated within the individual. It
may correspond in some respects to the Christian Amen that concludes all prayers.
imminence. This is the deepest state of the subtle mind, just next to the extremely
subtle mind of clear light wisdom. It is divided into two halves, an initial moment when
there is a consciousness of intense darkness, and a second moment of total
unconsciousness. It is called “imminence” (Skt. upalabdhi, Tib. nyer thob) because it is
the state where ultimate reality clear light is about to occur in consciousness. See
implements. The various deities hold implements in their hands, vajra-scepters, vajra
bells, choppers, skull bowls, and so forth, which symbolize the special insights, states,
and skills they wield for the benefit of beings.
indestructible drop. This is a name for the extremely subtle body, which at that
extremely subtle level is actually indivisible from the mind of clear light wisdom. It is the
embodiment of the Buddhist soul, the vehicle of the subtle continuum of mind that
migrates through death to successive lives, and that evolves into the inconceivable,
omnipresent, relative Beatific Body and ultimate Truth Body body-mind of all Buddhas.
See body-mind complex.
Individual Vehicle. This is my translation for the term developed by Universal Vehicle
(Skt. Mahayana) Buddhism for the foundation form of Buddhism, which I also call
Individualist, or monastic Buddhism. The term was originally derogatory, referring to the
narrow-minded refusal of early monastic Buddhists to accept the possibility of the
Buddha also having taught a Universal, M essianic form of Buddhism. In recent eras of
Universalist civilizations, it is a descriptive term and not derogatory, as the foundational
aspect of monastic Buddhism is respectfully accepted. Thus, when it is used in Tibetan
Buddhism nowadays, it means a vehicle suitable for transporting the individual to
freedom and enlightenment.
Individualist Buddhism. See Individual Vehicle.
individuating wisdom. One of the five wisdoms, the transformation of conceptions and
the transmutation of lust, associated with the Buddha Amitabha, the Lotus Buddha-clan,
the color red, and the awareness of the distinctions between things, their particularity
and individuality.
indivisible. This frequently used term indicates the nondual nature of reality, in terms of
relative and ultimate perspectives. The basic indivisibility is that of relative and absolute,
but in Tantric terminology there is frequent reference to the indivisibilities of compassion
and wisdom, bliss and void, clarity and void, and awareness and voidness.
initiation. Sanskrit abhishekha (Tib. dbang bskur ba) means literally “an anointment,”
as in the coronation of a king or queen, the ritual acknowledgment of a being’s
assumption of a special transformation, blessing, authority, and responsibility. In
Unexcelled Yoga Tantra there are four main initiations, the vase, secret, wisdom intuition,
and word initiations, which empower body, speech, mind, and the integration of all three
to learn, practice, and realize all levels of the Tantric path.
Inner (Mind) S cience. Sanskrit adhyatmavidya is the scientific tradition cultivated first
within the Buddhist institutions of higher learning over the last millennia and then within
all Indian spiritual institutions, based on the Buddha’s original insight that the most
powerful, subtle but controlling, aspect of nature is mind, accessed through the being’s
interior, not through the coarser level of material energies. For example, from the Inner
Science perspective, the key, most creative and triggering, ingredient in a nuclear bomb is
human hatred; thus hatred must be scientifically investigated, understood, and
technologically controlled, if the world is to be made safe against nuclear holocaust.
integration. Sanskrit yuganaddha is the Unexcelled Yoga Tantra name for Buddhahood,
the fifth and highest of the perfection stages, indicating that relative and ultimate,
individual and universal, body and mind, bliss and wisdom, male and female—all
dualities—are integrated in this experience of fulfillment.
Ishvari goddesses. Sanskrit ishvari means “goddess,” in the sense of a powerful,
superhuman female form in which enlightened beings manifest for the benefit of suffering
beings, especially beings traversing the subtle realms of the between.
isolation (body, speech, mind). These are states on the perfection stage of Unexcelled
Yoga Tantra. See body isolation.
Jewels, Three. The Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha: the teacher; the teaching, and the
reality of freedom it teaches; and the community that realizes the teachings and reality.
These are the three most precious things for a Buddhist, in which he or she “takes
refuge”—finds a haven from the extreme dangers of the suffering life cycle, and finds
assurance of the positive evolutionary direction of his or her succession of lives.
Kadam Order. An important monastic order in Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Atisha
(982–1054) and his main disciple, Dromtonpa, and based on the synthesis of the
monastic, messianic, and apocalyptic Buddhisms of India. It is organized around the
central messianic teaching of the spirit of enlightenment of love and compassion for all
beings, with renunciative, wisdom, and esoteric teachings organized into a systematic
path. Tsong Khapa later revived this order, and it became known as the Geluk Order
after the early 1400s.
Kagyu Order. An important monastic order in Tibet, descended from Vajradhara
Buddha through the great Indian adepts Tilopa and Naropa, to M arpa, M ilarepa, and
Gampopa, the Tibetan founders. M arpa, a layman, was the key translator who brought
the esoteric Indian teachings into Tibetan practice. M ilarepa was the key practitioner,
who spent a lifetime integrating the teachings into his being; he is sometimes considered
the first ordinary Tibetan (i.e., not already a Buddha or Bodhisattva reincarnation) to
become a perfect Buddha in a single lifetime. Gampopa was the main organizer, since he
was a monastic, a scholar learned in the Kadam Order’s curriculum; he synthesized the
yogic and tantric teachings of M arpa and M ilarepa with ethical and intellectual
disciplines needed by an enduring institution. The Karmapa Lamas were important
representatives of a branch of this order, benefiting Tibetan Buddhism a great deal,
especially during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and on into the present.
Kalachakra Tantra. The “Time M achine Tantra,” this is one of the most important and
elaborate of the Unexcelled Yoga Tantras, with a number of distinctive features. It is one
of the favorites of the Dalai Lamas, and the Namgyal M onastery of the Potala Palace in
Lhasa is the monastery most renowned for its expertise in the arts associated with this
Tantra. Its vision of Buddhahood is of an evolutionary time machine, an omnipresent
force of wisdom and compassion in close contact with planetary beings throughout all
the intricacies of their history.
karma. See evolution.
khatvanga staff. A Buddha deity implement commonly held by adepts and angels,
symbolizing their mastery of the subtle nervous system with its inner channels, winds,
and drops, for the sake of manifesting enlightenment to practitioners in the subtle realms
of dream, between, and samadhi.
Krodhishvari. The fierce female deities. See fierce.
lama. This means “spiritual teacher” in Tibetan, and represents a highly honored
profession, since the lama is the indispensable doorway to the practice and performance
of Tantra. I have translated it as “mentor” when it seems best to use an English
life. This translates three Tibetan words, tse, which means “lifespan” or “life time”; skye
ba, which literally means “birth”; and ‘khor ba, which means samsara, or “endless cycle
of suffering.” In the expression “life between,” it is the meaning of the second of these
Tibetan words that is conveyed by “life”; in the expression “life cycle,” it is the third.
life between. See life.
life cycle. See life.
Lotus clan. See clan.
luminance. The most surface state of the subtle mind (Skt. aloka), it corresponds to the
desire-oriented instinctual natures, and the inner sign of the moonlit autumn sky during
death dissolutions and birth arisals. The other two states of the subtle mind, the sun-lit
radiance and the dark-lit imminence, are also sometimes called “luminances,” and
sometimes “luminance wisdoms.”
magic body. The subtle body generated by the mind and imagery that is created on the
third of the perfection stages, the stage of self-consecration. It is the highest, esoteric,
consciously created form of the kind of subtle body normally experienced by the
dreamer in ordinary life, or by the between-being in the subtle between-states. It is
therefore essential to the technology of accelerating the evolutionary progress normally
achieved through heroic deeds during many death-, between-, and life-sequences.
Mahakala. A fierce deity who protects practitioners during their journey toward
enlightenment. His myth is that he was once a powerful demon who conquered even the
most powerful gods, due to the possession of a special boon from the supreme god
Brahma. He was then subdued by the Bodhisattvas M anjushri and Avalokiteshvara,
working in concert, and subsequently put his powers into the service of the Dharma.
Mahayana. See Universal Vehicle.
Maitreya, Dharma Lord. A great Bodhisattva whose name means “Loving One,” he
presently resides in his main embodiment in the Tushita heaven, whence he descends to
earth to benefit beings in many guises. In Buddhist mythology, he is due to manifest the
supreme Buddha deeds, similar to those of Shakyamuni, on this earth sometime in the
next thousands (or tens of thousands) of years.
mandala. This literally means “an essence-protecting environment.” M andalas are most
well known as geometrical paintings or drawings that look like the floor plan of a
building or the orbit of a planet. They are three-dimensional perfected environments,
Buddhaverses or Buddha-lands, created by the enlightenment of an individual as a place
that expresses his or her enlightenment. They are realms through which other beings can
be incorporated into that enlightenment perspective, A Tantric practitioner learns the
mandalic architecture of a particular type of enlightenment when she is initiated into a
Tantric yoga practice, and the creation stage consists largely of developing the ability to
visualize every detail of the total mandalic environment, to the degree where the yogini
can feel completely secure in the divine surrounding. Often mandalas have a central space
for the meditator’s divine Buddha-embodiment, a palace or mansion with a highly
complex and beautiful architecture.
mandala palace. See mandala.
MANI. A Sanskrit word meaning “jewel,” it is used in the famous mantra of
Avalokiteshvara, the Lord of Compassion, OM M ANI PADM E HUM (OM —the jewel
in the lotus—HUM ). The jewel symbolizes compassion, as the lotus symbolizes
wisdom, though there are many other layers of symbolism as well. See OM MANI
mantra. Literally meaning “saving the mind,” a mantra is a creative sound considered
expressive of the deepest essence of things and understandings, so its repetition can
evoke in a formulaic or even magical way a state of enlightenment or positive energy.
Some mantras resemble sentences, and express some wish, vision, or affirmation, while
others are just a single syllable or two, containing the germ of a deity, realm, or state of
concentration. See AH, OM, and so forth.
meditation, meditational higher education. See education, higher.
mentor, mentor-Buddha, mentor yoga. I use this to translate the Tibetan word lama,
itself the Tibetan translation of Sanskrit guru, which in esoteric Buddhism refers to a
special type of spiritual teacher, the relationship with whom is based on the deepest
aspirations of the practitioner, as he represents the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma,
and Community through mind, speech, and body.
Meru, Mount. The axial mountain of the archaic Buddhist and general Indian cosmology,
wherein the earth is flat, floating on a cosmic ocean, with four continents radiating out
from the cosmic mountain. The sun and moon are said to circle around it and to go
behind it when they disappear from view. When we encounter M eru in a Buddhist text,
we can think of it as corresponding to our sense of the planetary axis in our modern
mild deity. “M ild” is my translation for previous translations’ “peaceful,” the opposite
of “fierce,” my translation for previous translations’ “wrathful.” The term emphasizes
demeanor, avoiding prejudice as to the inner state of these Buddha-deities, all of whom
are unmoving from a state of absolute inner tranquillity and joy, whether showing mild or
fierce forms.
Mind S cience. See Inner (Mind) S cience.
mirror wisdom. One of the five wisdoms, the transformation of the form aggregate and
the transmutation of delusion, associated with the Buddha Akshobhya (in the Natural
Liberation system), the Vajra Buddha-clan, the color white, and the awareness that all
things reflect ultimate reality, as in a perfect mirror.
neural channels, drops, energies, or winds. I add the adjective “neural” to these three
elements of the subtle body, to indicate their subtle physiological nature. See body-mind
nirvana. The state of supreme freedom from suffering that is the goal of all Buddhist
practice, it is attainable by all beings because it is the final truth of their condition. In
some forms of Buddhism it is pictured as a state beyond the world, but in the
Universalist Buddhism of Tibet and East Asia, it is considered nondual from the ordinary
world of relativity. In fact, realization of nirvana transforms the ordinary relative world
into an extraordinary perfect environment or Buddhaverse.
Nyingma Order. One of the four orders of Tibetan Buddhism, the one that gives us the
original Natural Liberation literature. It began during the era of the Tibetan empire with
the founding of Samyey M onastery in the eighth century, due to the efforts of the abbot
Shantarakshita, the adept Padma Sambhava, and the emperor Trisong Detsen. At the
time it was not an order, it was just the first full Buddhist institution in Tibet. Later, in
the eleventh century, when the other Tibetan orders were founded, the Nyingma set up
its own distinct foundation, basing itself on the older translations and teachings. Thus its
name, Nyingma, means “older.” Its general teaching is the same as all Tibetan Buddhist
school’s. Its special teaching is the Great Perfection teaching of immanent enlightenment.
In modern Tibet before the destruction, the Nyingma Order had the second highest
number of monastic communities, around 1500, in which it conducted a sophisticated
curriculum of study and practice, as well as ministering to the surrounding society in
numerous ways.
OM. This mantric syllable is called “the body-vajra of all Buddhas.” It invokes the
power of the divine and universal, resonating with its omnipresence, and therefore occurs
at the beginning of most other mantras.
OM AH HUM. These three invoke the body, speech, and mind of all Buddhas,
resonating with the Emanation, Beatific, and Truth bodies of the Buddhas, and containing
the totality of enlightened presence.
OM MANI PADME HUM. This mantra is the sacred heart of the Bodhisattva of
universal compassion, Avalokiteshvara. Its meaning is “OM —the jewel in the lotus—
HUM ,” the jewel being loving compassion and the lotus being the wisdom of ultimate
reality. The mantra is especially popular in Tibet, where it used to be carved everywhere
on mountainsides, on all wheels—their turning articulated the blessing of the mantra—on
the lips of everyone as they went about their daily business. Tibetans believe that the
Bodhisattva is omnipresently concerned with their welfare, and they repeat the mantra
constantly to reaffirm their own devotion and solidarity with the Bodhisattva of
Compassion. They also believe that he is incarnate in their leader, His Holiness the Dalai
Lama, which explains the depth of their devotion to him.
ordinary. “Ordinariness” (Tib. thun mong nyid) is a Tantric concept, where the world as
perceived by the unenlightened is considered ordinary, maintained by delusion and filled
with suffering, and the real world, revealed through wisdom and perceived through
enlightened senses, is considered “extraordinary” (Tib. thun mong ma yin pa), a purified,
enlightened, mandalic, Buddhaverse realm of happiness and abundance. “Ordinary” is
frequently used with “between,” “reality,” “perception,” and other terms. Sometimes
“ordinary” is used nondually as the ultimate.
Padma S ambhava. The “Lotus-born One,” he was one of the greatest adepts, and is the
author of the Natural Liberation. In his mythic biography, he issued from the mouth of
the cosmic Buddha Amitabha in the form of a rainbow-trailing meteor, shooting down to
earth into the Dhanakosha lake in northwest India of ancient times. Later a jeweled lotus
sprang up in those waters, and a radiant child appeared there, to be adopted by the king
of that country, Udyana. After living for centuries and attaining inconceivable wisdom
and abilities, he journeyed to Tibet to tame the savage tribal deities of that mountain
land, writing many profound texts and hiding them in sealed treasuries for future
generations. After taming, or civilizing, Tibet, he departed for his own pure land, the
Copper M ountain Paradise, somewhere in the jungles of M adagascar, Africa, or South
America, where some Tibetans believe he still resides today.
PADME. Part of the mantra OM M ANI PADM E HUM .
perfection, great. See Great Perfection.
perfection stage. This is the second stage of the Unexcelled Yoga Tantras, which
follows on the successful completion of the creation stage. After the practitioner has
developed the ability to totally transform his perception and conception, so that he
stably perceives his environment as the pure mandala, his body as a deity body, his
speech as Buddha-mantra, and his mind as Buddha-wisdom, all three isolated from
ordinariness, imperfection, and impurity, he is ready and secure enough to enter the
practice of the rehearsal of death, the between, and the rebirth processes with a view to
accelerating his evolutionary accumulation of the stores of merit and wisdom to gain
Buddhahood within a single lifetime or at most a few lifetimes. These processes are
usually numbered five or six, including the stages of body isolation, speech isolation,
mind isolation/self-consecration/magic body, clear light/enlightenment, and integration.
The Natural Liberation gives teachings in this advanced area, but skillfully puts them
into a more accessible context, so that the general public can avail themselves of this
sophisticated science and technology in the crisis of death and the between.
poisons. There is a famous set of three poisons, ignorance or delusion, lust, and hatred,
which are considered the driving force of the world of suffering. In Tantric texts, these
three are expanded by the addition of pride and envy to make a group of five poisons, or
root addictions, that drive the life cycle.
pretan. Sanskrit preta refers to that life-form located on the wheel of life-forms (the
Buddhist “great chain of being”) between hell-beings and animals. It has often been
translated as “hungry ghost,” following the literal meaning of the Chinese characters
chosen for the Chinese translation of the term. They are not ghosts since they have a
real-life embodiment and are not stuck in the between-state hanging around their former
life realm (the Buddhist description of a ghost). They are definitely hungry and thirsty,
the nature of their lives being forms of extreme dissatisfaction and frustrated craving.
There simply is no good word to describe these poor creatures, so I use pretan.
psychonaut. A “voyager into the soul,” an apt term for the Buddhist adept, who
voluntarily abandons the pseudo-security of this planet of delusion, with its solid
ground of ordinary, individuated suffering, to launch herself through the deathdissolutions into the subtle between-states to deepen her wisdom by exploring the
unconscious and to expand her compassionate heroism by serving universes of beings on
the subtle level, and then returns to the ordinary embodiment of the adept to assist her
pure land. See Buddha-land.
radiance. The middle, sun-lit state of the subtle mind of radiance-luminance-wisdom.
Corresponding to the anger-related instinctual natures, it is between the states of
luminance and imminence.
Ratnasambhava. One of the five archetypal M ild Buddhas, Lord of the Jewel Buddhaclan, associated with the southern direction and the Buddha-land Shrimat. In the Natural
Liberation, he represents the equalizing wisdom, the transformation of the aggregate of
sensations, the transmutation of the poison of pride, and the color yellow. His Buddhaconsort is M amaki.
reality. Used to translate the Sanskrit dharmata, satya, and even Dharma. It is an
important word in Buddhism since enlightenment purports to be the perfect knowledge
and awareness of the actual condition of things, and the possibility of liberation from
suffering is based on the truth of that condition and the untruth of the ordinary condition
of suffering.
reality between. One of the six betweens, named in that way due to the fact that the
individual experiencing it is as close as he can get to the realization of the liberating
reality of freedom, either in its first section, the death-point between (sometimes made
into a separate between), or in its main sections, the mild and fierce deity betweens.
S akya Order. One of the four orders of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded in the
eleventh century with the establishment of the Sakya M onastery in 1073. It shares the
same general Buddhist teaching as the other orders, its special teachings being the
Hevajra Tantra and a special version of the path combined with that, called “Path and
samadhi. An important Sanskrit word for meditational practice and meditational
achievement. Usually defined as “one-pointedness of mind,” it can also refer to creative
mind states after enlightenment, mental concentrations that produce special light rays,
liberating environments for disciples, and so forth. It has now entered the English
S amantabhadra, Buddha and Bodhisattva. See All-around Goodness.
samaya. A Sanskrit word usually meaning “vow” or “commitment,” it is used in the
Natural Liberation as a concluding mantra in several contexts, where it signifies that the
teaching is sealed by vows, and people should not use such teachings for other than
spiritual purposes.
S angha. See Jewels, Three.
secret initiation. See initiation.
seed mantra, syllable. A particular single-syllable mantra considered to contain the
essence of a deity or samadhi, such as TAM , for Tara.
self. Sanskrit atma is the reflexive pronoun made into an entity, the ego or coordinator of
individual experience. The Buddha’s deepest, most unique insight is expressed as
“selflessness,” his understanding that the habitual exaggeration of the status of the self
into an absolute, fixed, unchanging, intrinsically identifiable identity—what he called
mis-knowledge—is the source of all suffering, the fundamental distortion at the core of
the individual being’s programming that puts the individual into the impossible situation
of being against the universe. But the Buddha often refers to the self, and never rejects
the existence of a relative, practical, changing, flexible self. He calls upon it to assume
responsibility for the individual’s fate, and critiques as a serious error the nihilistic idea
that there is no such thing and that one does not exist at all. Of the falsely absolutized
selves, there are said to be two kinds, the personal, interior, or subjective self and the
objective self of things and processes in the world. These are the falsely reified objects of
the conscious and unconscious self-habits or self-addictions, which cause all the suffering
in the world.
selflessness. There are two kinds in the Buddhist technical literature on identity, the
subjective selflessness and the objective selflessness. Subjective selflessness is the reality
of our not having fixed, substantial selves; it is the absence of a solid, unchanging core
self. A synonym of objective selflessness is emptiness or voidness, which is not a realm
of blackness, but the fact that things are empty of intrinsic reality, void of intrinsic
identity. See self.
S hakyamuni Buddha. The supreme Emanation Body of our historical era, the
historical figure (ca. 563–481 B.C.E .) whose life story provides the paradigm of the
attainment of enlightenment.
skull bowl. A symbolic implement of fierce deities that demonstrates their insight into
their own death and their turning of it into a vessel for liberating activity.
soul. That which is the deepest personal essence of a living being, which journeys from
life to life and takes rebirth, and which becomes enlightened finally. The Buddha’s
famous teaching of selflessness has often been translated in the past as “soullessness,”
and was used to confirm the Western sense that Buddhism is nihilistic and atheistic. The
Buddha rejected any absolute, unchanging, fixed, intrinsically substantial, intrinsically
identifiable soul, just as he rejected the same kind of self or ego. But relative, changing,
relational, living, conventional entities that can usefully be termed ego, self, and soul are
never prohibited in Buddhist psychology. In the Natural Liberation in particular, the
extremely subtle body-mind very much qualifies as the soul of the being who is
undergoing death, the between, and liberation or rebirth.
spiritual gene. Sanskrit gotra refers to the subtle encodement within the life-continuum
of an individual of the instinctual residue of her past lives’ evolutionary experiences and
actions, which is carried as a subtle “drop” into the next life, wherein it interacts with the
physical genes from father and mother to determine the character of the being in that life.
The Tibetan Buddhist vision of conception is rather beautiful, a moment where the
father’s white drop meets the mother’s red drop, and the individual’s blue drop enters
within their union.
subtle body-mind. See body-mind complex.
Tantra. A type of Buddhist (and Hindu and Jain) teaching that emphasizes spiritual
technology and contemplative arts rather than philosophical contents. Sanskrit tantra
refers to “continuum,” and relates to the verb “to weave.” In Buddhism, the Tantra
concerns itself with the rebuilding of the extraordinary realm of enlightenment by the
energies of wisdom, after the demolition of the ordinary world of suffering, which is
upheld by the energy of ignorance. It tends to be considered esoteric, as it could be
misunderstood as denying the existence of the world of suffering, when taken out of
context. The Natural Liberation emerges from the Tantric science and literature, but it is
formulated to be accessible to a wider public.
Tara. The Bodhisattva or Buddha of compassionate activity, she is widely loved
throughout Tibet and all of Universalist Buddhist Asia. As a Bodhisattva, she is
considered indivisible from the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, being his female
counterpart, while he is her male counterpart. While Avalokiteshvara is considered the
manifestation of the concentrated compassion of all Buddhas, Tara is the manifestation
of the concentrated compassionate dynamism of all Buddhas. She is much more dynamic
than he is. As a Buddha, she is the consort of Amoghasiddhi, the contemplative green
Buddha of the north, who symbolizes the all-accomplishing, or miracle-working,
wisdom. There are innumerable manifestations of Tara, as many as beings require, but
her most famous are the peaceful white Tara, who brings protection, long life, and peace,
and the dynamic green Tara, who overcomes obstacles and saves beings in dangerous
treasure-text. The great masters of ancient times sometimes wrote teachings that they
deemed too advanced for their contemporaries, so they concealed these teachings in
caves, temples, lakes, even in the subconscious minds of beings, to be discovered in the
future by “treasure-discoverers” (Tib. gter-gton) and then made available to people of
those future eras.
Truth. For the most part a synonym of reality, though sometimes a statement that
corresponds to or indicates that reality. See reality.
Truth Body. See Body.
tulku. The Tibetan word for the Emanation Body of the Buddha. Those Tibetan lamas
called tulku are believed to be the conscious reincarnations of lamas who became adepts
and attained enlightenment and the power of conscious reincarnation in previous lives.
They are considered “Incarnational Emanation Bodies” (Skt. janmanirmana-kaya) of
Buddhas, lesser in stature than Shakyamuni, who is seen as a Supreme Emanation Body,
due to the lesser fortune of the beings of later eras, though no less wise or
Udyana. Tibetan U rgyan, the Buddhist country in northwestern India (perhaps presentday Pakistan or Afghanistan) where Padma Sambhava was first born, sometimes still
thought of in the present as a paradise of Dakini-angels invisible to the ordinary
inhabitants there.
Unexcelled Yoga (Tantra). The most advanced of the four kinds of Buddhist Tantras.
Universal Vehicle. The M ahayana, or messianic form of Buddhism that emphasizes the
teaching of love and compassion, the inevitable implication of selfless wisdom. Providing
a social teaching and a vehicle to carry all beings to enlightenment, it is built upon the
foundation of the Individual or monastic Vehicle that is designed to carry beings one by
Universalist Buddhism. See Universal Vehicle.
Vairochana. One of the five archetypal M ild Buddhas, lord of the Realized Lord
Buddha-clan, associated with the central region and the Buddha-land Ghanavyuha. In the
Natural Liberation, he represents the ultimate reality wisdom, the transmutation of the
poison of hate, the color white, and the aggregate of consciousness. His Buddha-consort
is Vajra Dhatvishvari.
vajra. See adamantine.
Vajra Heruka. See Heruka.
Vajrasattva. One of the archetypal M ild Buddha-deities, he is sometimes considered the
lord of a sixth Buddha-clan, and sometimes is associated with Akshobhya, the lord of the
Vajra clan. In the broadest Tantric terms, he is considered the archetypal male form
adopted by the Buddha when he teaches the esoteric Tantric teachings. Therefore, any of
the Tantric Buddha-deities can be called Vajrasattva.
vase initiation. See initiation.
warrior’s posture. A heroic, dancing stance, related to the pose adopted by an archer for
winds, neural. See body-mind complex.
wisdoms, five wisdoms. The ultimate reality, mirror, equalizing, individuating, and allaccomplishing wisdoms, associated with the five aggregates, five poisons, five Buddhas,
five colors, and five directions.
womb door. The metaphorical door that blocks the between-being’s entrance into a
womb and involvement in the process of rebirth. The being is instructed in “blocking”
this portal during the existence between in order to try to avoid delusion-driven rebirth
and to attain liberation.
wonder-working wisdom. See all-accomplishing wisdom.
Yama. The Vedic and Hindu Lord of Death, he is popularly depicted as the judge of the
dead at the gates of hell, who weighs their good and evil evolutionary deeds and decides
their fate. His minions come to take the soul away at death, leading it down to the court
of Yama. They are called Yama deities.
yogi, yogini. A yogi is a male practitioner of Buddhist yoga, the “yoking” of one’s life
energies to their knowledge and understanding. A female yogi is called a yogini.
Avedon, John F. In Exile from the Land of Snows. New York: Knopf, 1984.
Cranston, Sylvia, and Carey Williams. Reincarnation: A New Horizon in Science,
Religion, and Society. New York: Julian Press, 1984.
Gyatso, Geshe Kelsang. The Clear Light of Bliss. London: Tharpa, 1985.
Gyatso, Tenzin, H.H. the Dalai Lama. Kindness, Clarity, and Insight. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow
Lion, 1984.
——, et al. MindScience: An East-West Dialogue. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991.
Lati Rinpochay and Jeffrey Hopkins. Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth. Ithaca,
N.Y.: Snow Lion, 1985.
Lodo, Lama. Bardo Teachings. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion, 1987.
M ullin, Glenn H. Death and Dying: The Tibetan Tradition. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion,
Nyima Rinpoche, Chokyi. The Bardo Guidebook. Kathmandu: Rangjung Yeshe, 1991.
Rangdrol, Tsele Natsok. The Mirror of Mindfulness. Boston: Shambhala, 1989.
Rhie, M arylin, and Robert A. F. Thurman. Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of
Tibet. New York: Abrams, 1991.
Sogyal Rinpoche. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. San Francisco: HarperCollins,
Robert Thurman—who was named by Time as one of the 25 most influential people
in the world—leads a group of Westerners on an unforgettable trek around M ount
Kailash, the holiest of Himalayan mountains.
A Spiritual Journey Through the Himalayas
Robert Thurman and Tad Wise
On sale in M arch 1999 from Bantam Books
In the tradition of The Snow Leopard, CIRCLING THE SACRED M OUNTAIN is a
remarkable true account of spiritual adventure amid the breathtaking vistas of the
Himalayas. A promise of transformation inspired Robert Thurman to take a group of
trekkers to the mountain and teach them an accelerated path of Tibetan Buddhism. Tad
Wise, one of the student trekkers, acts as Thurman’s foil, offering his own view of the
trip as he struggles to acclimatize both physically and spiritually. Chronicling the inner
as well as the outer journey, CIRCLING THE SACRED M OUNTAIN offers an
inspirational look at a challenging journey to enlightenment.
circling 11/98
Tibetan tangka, 19th century, Horch Collection, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University.
The Indian great adept and first guru of Tibet, Padma Sambhava, here depicted at home
in his palace atop the Copper M ountain, a hidden paradise in jungles somewhere to the
southwest of India. To his left and right are his two consorts, the Tibetan princess Yeshe
Tsogyal and the Indian princess M andarava. Above his head are the four-armed
Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva and the red Amitabha Buddha. He is the author of the
Natural Liberation.
Tibetan tangka, 15th century, Robert Hatfield Ellsworth Private Collection.
The Natural Liberation often refers to “the Lord of Compassion,” meaning this great
Bodhisattva. Avalokiteshvara is praised by the Buddha in many scriptures as the living
quintessence of the compassion of all Buddhas. His ten heads and thousand arms
symbolize his ability to see the sufferings of all beings and reach out to them his saving
hand, whether in the sea of troubles of ordinary life or in the crisis of the between.
Tibetan tangka, 15th century, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The Buddha of the eastern direction sits in his Buddha-land, flanked by two Bodhisattva
attendants, surrounded by the many Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, deities, and ordinary beings
who have been reborn in this special world, which is constructed by Akshobhya’s great
compassion for all beings.
Tibetan tangka, 19th century, Tibet House, New York City, gift of Ms. Jacqueline
The wheel is held in the mouth, hands, and feet of a form of Yama, Lord of Death. The
rim of the wheel has symbols for the twelve causal links of dependent origination, the
Buddhist scheme of world-origination. Inside, the wheel is divided into six spaces; the
uppermost is desire-realm heaven, then moving clockwise are the realms of the anti-gods,
the animals, the hells (on the bottom), the pretans, and the humans. In the center are a
pig, a cock, and a snake, symbolizing the three poisons—delusion, greed, and hate.
Tibetan tangka, 19th century, The Newark Museum.
This remarkable work presents in one painting all the major deities that appear in the
between as described in the Natural Liberation. At the top center sits the ultimate
Buddha, Samantabhadra, dark blue, in union with his consort, Samantabhadri, who is
white. Below him sits Vairochana with his consort, surrounded by the five Scientist
adept deities with their consorts. In four circles around them sit the four Buddhas of the
directions with their consorts and male and female Bodhisattva attendants, blue
Vajrasattva, yellow Ratnasambhava, red Amitabha, and green Amoghasiddhi (clockwise
from eight o’clock). Outside of them are arranged the six Buddhas of the six realms of
existence, with four fierce knowledge-guarding deity couples between them. The upper
left-hand corner has the four-armed Avalokiteshvara, the upper right the peaceful white
Tara, his female colleague. In the center stands the fierce Heruka Buddha Chemchok,
with his consort, surrounded by five fierce Buddha couples, eight Gauri human-headed
goddesses, sixteen animal-headed fierce goddesses, and four circles with twenty-four
animal-headed fierce protectresses. A tiny Padma Sambhava outlined in gold sits in the
dark blue sky above the central figure on his right, and a vibrant green Tara sits below
him at his left.
Detail of center of tangka in plate 5.
Upper detail of tangka in plate 5.
Lower detail of tangka in plate 5.

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